Defendant Honeywell’s management had known since at least 1969 that metallic mercury dumped into the Turtle River estuary would methylate, bioaccumulate in the fish, and poison people who ate the fish.
That’s what attorneys for the city of Braunschweig claim in a lawsuit filed last month against Honeywell, owner of the former LCP Chemicals plant, and Georgia Power.
The city alleges that mercury and Aroclor-1268 polychlorinated biphenyls, referred to in the lawsuit as PCBs, another chemical used at the facility, will continue to spread up the food chain as a result of Honeywell’s actions.
The city is seeking punitive damages for the loss of revenue from the use and lease of city waterfront properties due to pollution, the true value of which is to be determined by a grand jury.
“The actions of the defendants have impaired the value, use and enjoyment of property of the city of Braunschweig. The properties of the city of Braunschweig were poisoned and contaminated,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges the company was aware that chemicals dumped into local waterways posed a threat to anyone consuming Glynn County seafood and that it sold the former plant site when it found that the costs for the environmental remediation are “uneconomical”.
Allied Chemical and Dye Corp., now Honeywell, opened the facility in 1955. When Honeywell filed a report with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1981, the facility had dumped hundreds of tons of PCBs, a chemical used at the facility, into Purvis Creek — the in the Turtle River – and had created dumps for more of the same chemicals in the swamp. Portions of the facility began to sink because another chemical dissolved the soil beneath the structure.
The report, the lawsuit states, did not include that information. It only stated that the facility was responsible for the release of “4,500 tonnes of material containing trace amounts of mercury,” thereby concealing the true amount of mercury dumped and not mentioning PCBs.
As early as 1988, Honeywell and LPC Chemicals and Plastic Corp. conspired to cover up the extent of the pollution, the lawsuit alleges, and it wasn’t until 1991 that the state Department of Natural Resources discovered fish contaminated with chemicals allegedly dumped at the site.
Even after the discovery, the lawsuit alleges that Honeywell — which used its position as a creditor after financing LCP’s purchase of the plant to keep it operating — attempted to keep the plant open to defer environmental cleanup costs and the Save company $20 million. By 1993, Honeywell had again taken over direct operation of the plant to keep it running and further delay environmental cleanup orders, the lawsuit alleges.
Honeywell continued to pump money into the plant to keep it open to defer environmental cleanup contracts, the lawsuit alleges, and fought efforts by the state Environmental Protection Department to shut it down by 1994. She continued dumping chemicals into local waterways and landfills, the city claims.
Studies by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control found that PCBs are present in all types of marine life in local waters – including the highest levels found in dolphins since 2016 – and in humans on Sapelo Island, 40 km away .
The saga began decades earlier when the plant opened in 1955. According to the lawsuit, Honeywell’s leadership was aware of the danger to citizens posed by the discharge of mercury and PCBs into the environment as early as 1969, the lawsuit alleges.
“Despite the tip and knowledge of the toxic consequences of dumping metallic mercury into the Turtle River estuary, Defendant Honeywell intentionally continued to dump metallic mercury into the Turtle River estuary and made no effort to recover the mercury that he already had wrongly dumped,” the lawsuit reads.
The city claims the company knew as early as 1970 that PCBs accumulate in animal fat and cause the death of marine life, but continued to dump tens of thousands of pounds of the chemical into local waters.
By 1971, according to the city’s lawsuit, the company was aware that mercury and PCBs were present in the local environment and posed a threat to anyone consuming seafood from the immediate area.
“Defendant Honeywell chose to hide his wrongdoing and take no action to protect his neighbors, the City of Brunswick, or the citizens of the City of Brunswick, or those who fished and crabbed in Glynn County waters, or those who fished seafood ate, notify and warn off the waters of Glynn County,” the lawsuit alleges.
Managers at all of Honeywell’s industrial plants were instructed in 1978 to determine the cost of environmental compliance, the lawsuit says, and the company chose to divest any interests where the cost proved “uneconomical.”
The Brunswick site was one such holding and was acquired by LCP Chemicals and Plastics Corp. in 1979. bought, so the lawsuit. It is also alleged that Honeywell did not provide details of the pollution to LCP at the time.
Honeywell financed the purchase and was the creditor to LCP, the lawsuit says, and used that leverage to keep the plant operating and continuing disposal while evading EPA scrutiny. It eventually reacquired the facility to keep it running and defer state and federal environmental cleanup contracts
In 1988, LCP and Honeywell formed “a conspiracy … to conceal environmental offenses and to facilitate the continued operation of the facility, with the object and effect of perpetuating and aggravating the nuisance caused by the accused Honeywell.”
According to the lawsuit, this conspiracy served to “assist in Defendant Honeywell’s efforts to illegally conceal its responsibility for the PCBs deposited on the premises by demanding that the insolvent LCP assume responsibility for the PCBs, with Defendant Honeywell LCP secretly reimbursed the costs, although LCP had never used printed circuit boards at the Braunschweig plant.
In fact, the two companies wanted to deceive government agencies to “cover up illegal, criminal conduct … and avoid full financial responsibility for[Honeywell’s]misdeeds.”
Federal EPA is in the process of completing an environmental remediation plan for the former LCP facility site.
The city claims Georgia Power contributed to local pollution at Plant McManus, a coal-fired power plant that once operated in Braunschweig. Emissions from the coal burning process contain mercury vapor, the lawsuit alleges.
Neither Honeywell nor Georgia Power had filed a response as of Wednesday.
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