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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Court agrees to superfund deal to clean up San Germán’s drinking water

By The Star Staff

The U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico has signed off on a superfund transaction that will require HP Inc. and a sterling silver manufacturer to carry out remediation work at a site that contaminated San Germán’s drinking water and pay over $7 million in damages.

The transaction signed off on last week was part of a federal suit filed earlier this year against the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO), HP Inc., and Lifetime Brands Inc., one of the parent companies of Wallace Silversmiths of Puerto Rico, which manufactures sterling silver.

PRIDCO has owned the Retiro Industrial Park since at least 1968 and is the current owner of the industrial park in San Germán.

From 2001 to 2005, groundwater samples collected quarterly from the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) public drinking water supply wells in San Germán regularly exhibited detectable concentrations of the hazardous substances tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and cis-1,2-dichloroethene (cis-1,2-DCE). PCE also was detected in tap water samples from the community.

Based on the levels of these pollutants in the groundwater and drinking water, the Puerto Rico Department of Health ordered PRASA to close three drinking water supply wells in early 2006. In June 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collected groundwater samples near the closed drinking water supply wells and confirmed the presence there of PCE, trichloroethylene (TCE) and cis-1,2- DCE. Starting in July 2006, the EPA investigated 44 industrial properties in the San Germán area to determine the source of the groundwater contamination. The EPA concluded that the TCE, PCE, cis-1,2-DCE and other volatile organic compounds were migrating into the groundwater from contaminated soil at two source areas within the Retiro Industrial Park located about one‐half mile southeast of PRASA’s drinking water wells.

While the two soil contamination sources of groundwater contamination are separate, some of the plumes then co-mingle as they migrate downgradient, northwest toward PRASA’s wells. Based on the results of its investigation, the EPA listed the site on the National Priorities List (NPL) in 2008.

The NPL is a national list of hazardous waste sites posing the greatest threat to public health and welfare, and the environment.

The first source area surrounds buildings leased and occupied by Wallace Silversmiths de Puerto Rico Ltd. The EPA calls this source area the “Wallace Lot.” The EPA found high levels of chlorinated solvents including PCE, TCE and cis-1,2-DCE in the soil at the Wallace Lot. The second source area surrounds buildings that are now vacant but were formerly occupied by CCL Label Inc. and related printing companies. The EPA found high levels of chlorinated solvents including TCE, PCE and cis-1,2-DCE in the soil at the CCL Lot.

The contaminated soil in the two source areas acts as a continuing source of groundwater contamination. The EPA has divided the cleanup work at the site into two “operable units” -- Operable Unit 1, which focuses on eliminating the ongoing sources of groundwater contamination, and Operable Unit 2, which addresses the remaining contaminated groundwater.

The suit also says that Digital Equipment Corporation de Puerto Rico (DEC-PR) began its manufacturing operations in the Retiro Industrial Park in or about 1968. DEC-PR leased and occupied one or more buildings at the CCL Lot in the Retiro Industrial Park from around 1971 to approximately 1992.

During its operations, DEC-PR released TCE into the soil at the CCL Lot. DEC merged with Compaq Computer Corporation, resulting in Compaq being the surviving entity, on or about Dec. 9, 1999. Compaq merged with Hewlett-Packard Company, with Hewlett-Packard Company being the surviving entity, on or about April 30, 2004. Hewlett-Packard Company changed its name to HP Inc. on or about Oct. 27, 2015 and holds the liabilities of DEC.

Beginning in 2006, Wallace Silversmiths de P.R. Ltd. began operating the Wallace facility, continuing silverware manufacturing operations that began at the Wallace Lot in around 1972. As of July 2006, Wallace employed a TCE solvent degreaser in its silverware manufacturing operation, was using about 566 gallons of TCE per year, and stored waste TCE sludge in deteriorating drums. There have been leaks and spills of TCE and TCE sludge from Wallace’s operations, which contaminated the soils outside of its building.

Wallace is a subsidiary of Syratech Acquisition Corpo. Syratech, in turn, is a subsidiary of Lifetime Brands Inc., which managed and directed decisions about Wallace’s compliance with environmental regulations.

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