U.S. Water News Online
PHILADELPHIA -- A pharmaceutical company will pay more than
$20 million for multiple Clean Water Act violations stemming from
three chemical spills, one of which killed more than 1,000 fish and
forced the city to temporarily shut off drinking water intakes.
Based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., Merck & Co. Inc. will pay
$10 million for systems to prevent future hazardous discharges at the
facility 15 miles outside Philadelphia, and $9 million for other
large-scale environmental protection projects, federal authorities
Merck also will pay $750,000 to the federal government, $750,000
to the state and $75,000 to the state Fish and Boat Commission in
penalties and civil damages for the three 2006 discharges in the
Wissahickon Creek, which is the source of 40 percent of
Philadelphia's drinking water.
"Perhaps more than anything else, this settlement says to every
company that discharges dangerous chemicals as part of its operations
that it is accountable to the environment and the community," U.S.
Attorney Patrick J. Meehan said in a statement.
"No one should have to wonder, when they walk into the kitchen for
a glass of water, if what they are about to drink is going to make
them or their children sick."
The pharmaceutical and vaccine research and manufacturing facility
in West Point, Montgomery County, released about 25 gallons of
potassium thiocyanate into the Upper Gwynedd Township wastewater
treatment system on June 13, 2006. The compound, which used for
making industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and pesticides, turned
toxic when it reacted with the chlorination system.
The discharge killed about 1,000 fish in the Wissahickon Creek on
June 14 and June 15, caused the Philadelphia Water Department to
close its Schuylkill River drinking water intake for both days, and
led the state Department of Environmental Protection to ban all
recreational uses on the creek for nearly a month.
On Aug. 8 and Aug. 9, 2006, Merck released a high-protein solution
used in the manufacture of vaccines into the sewage system that sent
foam floating down stretches of the Wissahickon, Meehan said.
On Aug. 16, 2006, Merck discharged cleaning agents that caused
another foam discharge into the creek, Meehan said.
Under a proposed consent decree, Merck will create a system to
track waste handling, name a task force to assess current protocols,
and increase testing and assessment. Merck also must implement
long-term remedial policies.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Merck will restore
part of the Wissahickon to improve water quality, create wetlands on
a nearby 10-acre parcel, purchase technology that monitors fish
activity to give the Philadelphia Water Department an early warning
system, and make other improvements.
Included in the total is a $4.5 million contribution from Merck
that will go toward the purchase of a 96-acre land parcel adjacent to
the creek that will have restricted use and open space easements in
"Merck believes the settlement we reached is fair, and we are
pleased that it includes important projects that will result in
permanent benefits to our local environment," spokesman Ian McConnell
said in a statement.
Donald S. Welsh, the EPA regional administrator, said, "These
improvements and Merck's environmental accountability has
implications extending beyond the boundaries of its facility."
Merck's operations in West Point are on a 400-acre site with 110
buildings and 8,500 employees.
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