Monday, June 11, 2007

Ten million gallons of toxic gunk

This is a very long piece, but worth a read. It makes you wonder what's lurking underneath where you live. It also brings up issues of how far back notions of "legal liability" should be allowed to go. Much of the gunk apparently dates back to the 1800's.

Is it reasonable to hold descendant companies, several times removed, and a century+ distant from the original offenders liable? Taken in the extreme, could say the city of Albany NY sue the Netherlands for shoddy sewer construction on State St that happened 350 years ago? (Albany very recently had some sewer lines still in operation that were built hundreds of years ago by the Dutch). As the detritus of progress grows more dangerous and toxic, this is a legal issue that will need addressing.

At what point does punishing people/companies, who had no direct complicity what so ever in some incident, become excessive and patently unfair?

Society loves to identify scapegoats for everything and "make them pay", but what about when the responsible parties have been dead for 100+ years and nobody really knows who they were anyway? Something to think about.

New York Magazine
[...]a thin dribble that betrays the presence of a supertanker’s worth of the stuff submerged in the age-old geology of Greenpoint. It’s actually more than a century’s worth of spills, leaks, and waste dumped by oil companies that has pooled into a vast underground lake, more than 55 acres wide and up to 25 feet thick. First discovered by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1978, the Greenpoint spill has been estimated at anywhere between 17 million and 30 million gallons—three times more oil than the Exxon Valdez spill. That makes it the largest known oil spill in American history[...]


Foxfier said...

Well, from that article, the company that *didn't have to* clean up has already removed nearly a third of the largest estimate anyone has put forward.

I think they're right that it's folks taking a shot at some cash.

Purple Avenger said...

My dad owned an electroplating shop when I was younger that was driven out of business by threat of a $500,000 lawsuit by NY DEC. The claim was that the site was "contaminated" and it would take a half mil for the "cleanup".

If he and his partner agreed to sign away their rights to the property and assign it to some lawyer in Albany who agreed to "remediate" the problem the state would drop the lawsuit.

Once the transfer to this lawyer was accomplished, the remediation consisted of basically nothing. The site was padlocked and no "cleanup" was done -- because no contamination of significance ever existed at the plating shop site.

There was some contamination in the general area, but years later it was discovered it was due to a house just up the street. For years, the owner of that house had been taking money to dispose of waste, but had been burying the drums of gunk in his backyard rather than actually disposing of it in a manner that would have cost something.

Needless to say, nobody from the state ever came back and offered to return our property or even offer an apology for running the scam that took it to begin with.