Seven Minnesota cities sue over contaminated ponds

Source:, January 8m 2019
by: Sabina Badola

Carcinogenic chemicals are costly to remove and dispose

Seven Minnesota cities, including Minnetonka, have filed identical federal lawsuits against seven companies for allegedly contaminating several ponds with toxic chemicals.
The chemicals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also called PAHs, are found in high concentrations in coal tar sealant, a thin black coating that was commonly applied to driveways and parking lots to protect the underlying asphalt.
The state banned coal tar sealants in 2014 because PAHs pose a risk to the environment and to people. They are generally carcinogenic and, at high enough exposures, can cause cancer.
The lawsuits allege the refined coal tar manufacturers knew about the toxicity of their products and that they were not safe for use, but marketed and sold them anyway.
“This is the first lawsuit of its kind in the country,” said Nick Palladino, vice president of communications for New York-based Weitz & Luxenberg, the lead law firm on the case.
Over the years, particles of the sealant have worn off surfaces and washed into stormwater ponds, which are built to control floods, improve water quality and catch contaminants.
PAH was first detected in Minnetonka ponds during routine testing. The city estimates that 20 to 50 percent of its 252 public stormwater ponds are contaminated with PAHs.
Excavating ponds to their correct capacity and function is routine, whether they are contaminated or not, but cleanup of a PAH-containing pond could cost up to 10 times more than a typical excavation because the waste requires special handling, according to Robin Greenwald, lead environmental and consumer protection attorney for Weitz & Luxenberg.
“The total cost to clean up the PAHs … statewide is estimated to be, at minimum, hundreds of millions of dollars,” Palladino said.
Proper disposal of PAHs is in authorized landfills designed to ensure that waste does not migrate into the environment. If not dredged and disposed of properly, the contaminated soil could pose a public health risk. As of now, it is not a public health concern as the contaminants are contained in the ponds’ sediment.
Therefore, the city is seeking compensation for the associated costs of monitoring, testing, removing and disposing of the sediment, waste and PAHs.
“The polluter should pay for the increased costs of these additional disposal requirements, not the taxpayers,” Palladino said.
The city has not used any PAH-containing sealants, therefore its presence in Minnetonka comes from property owners. The city is not holding parties who used them responsible for the damages.
Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, the city plans to begin testing ponds for PAH this year. Cleanup will begin after testing.
The other cities that have filed lawsuits are Bloomington, Burnsville, Eden Prairie, Golden Valley, Maple Grove and White Bear Lake.
The refined coal tar manufacturers that were named in the lawsuits are Koppers Inc., Ruetgers Canada Inc., Rain Carbon Holdings, Rain Carbon LLC, Stella-Jones Corporation, Coopers Creek Chemical Corporation and Lone Star Specialty Products LLC.

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