An environmental group last week named the Raymark Superfund site in Stratford one of the worst polluters in New England.
"Over the past two decades, the Dirty Dozen Awards have shined a spotlight on egregious polluters and toxic threats in New England," the Toxic Actions center writes in its report, 25 Years of the Dirty Dozen: Past and Current Pollution Threats in New England.
"During this time," the introduction continues, "a number of award winners have changed their poor practices and cleaned up their acts while others have not. This report highlights twelve bad actors, a compilation of the region's worst offenders."
An Asbestos Problem
The Raymark Superfund site is now home to a Walmart, a ShopRite and a Home Depot, though the report states "dozens more toxic waste sites still remain around Stratford...on residential, commercial, and public properties."
The report says Raymark's inclusion as one of the top 12 polluters in New England relates to health problems associated with asbestos exposure.
"People who have lived in Stratford for a long time can remember digging up shredded brake pads in their backyards. Raymark Industries operated in the town of Stratford from 1919 to 1989, manufacturing gaskets, clutches and asbestos brake linings for the automobile industry."
Though the business employed thousands of town residents and generated millions of dollars of revenue for Stratford, "its facade began to crumble," the report says, in the 1980s when the public became aware of the health problems assiociated with asbestos exposure.
Lawsuits to Bankruptcy
The report states: "Company documents show that longtime president Sumner Simpson had been aware of these health effects for decades without taking measures to protect employees from toxic exposure or even to notify them of the threat. Workers began to file lawsuits against the company in the 1980s.
"Instead of taking responsibility for its misdeeds, Raymark filed for bankruptcy and reorganized its financial assets to avoid the consequences of its actions.
"In the wake of its multiple bankruptcies," the report continues, "Raymark mixed waste from its industrial processes with soil and began distributing it to residents of Stratford for use in gardens and on lawns [without notifying them] that the soil contained high levels of asbestos, lead, copper, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Contamination Spreads, Remains
"Raymark spread its contaminated soil on other sites across the town, including a baseball field, a public park, and forty-six residential properties. Wetlands along the Housatonic River suffered the same fate.
"When the town discovered that Raymark waste contained asbestos, lead, copper, PCBs, and VOCs, they called in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which declared the toxic waste sites throughout town to be a federal Superfund site in 1995."
In 2001, 12 years after declaring bankruptcy, Raymark paid $6.8 billion in personal injury claims and unpaid retirement benefits to workers and hundreds of millions in environmental liabilities, according to the report.
But the contamination remains.
Despite $200 million of work led by the Environmental Protection Agency and other state and federal agencies, "a toxic plume flows in the groundwater, seeping into homes through their very foundations, [leading the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to install] air filters in over one hundred homes.
"Newcomers to Stratford often move into houses without any information about the extent of the problem because neither the town nor Raymark nor anyone else has any legal obligation to inform them."
'Short-cuts Instead of Solutions'
The report states: "In spite of years of negotiations between EPA and concerned citizens of Stratford, the federal agency's most recent plan proposes short-cuts instead of solutions. Their plan 'will reduce but not eliminate potential direct exposure to Raymark waste' by excavating the remaining toxic sites around town and consolidating the contaminated soil at sites in the middle of densely populated residential neighborhoods."
The report credits a local residential group called SaveStratford.org for "banning the dumping of asbestos-laden wastes in residential neighborhoods as part of Connecticut's landmark 2008 environmental justice law." The report also commends the group for proposing alternative remediation plans to the EPA's.
Local Group Says They're Ignored
SaveStratford, which was formed in 2007, released a statement following the report's publication last week.
"We've presented scientifically proven technology that effectively eliminates asbestos and PCB's as well as neutralizes lead and other heavy metals to the EPA and CT State DEEP as a solution," the group said.
"Sadly, both USEPA Region 1 and the CT State DEEP have chosen to ignore these solutions and continue pushing their one and only substandard, underfunded proposal that: Does not clean up the Toxic Raymark Waste. Does not fix the problem. Does not help Stratford."
The report from the Toxic Actions center concludes: "Twenty-three years after the initial remediation began at Raymark, instead of a band-aid approach, the families, businesses and community of Stratford deserve a fully funded, comprehensive cleanup of the Toxic Raymark waste to protect public health, environment and quality of life."