Conservation Law Foundation, Schnitzer Steel settle pollution lawsuits for $2 million

BOSTON — Local environmental groups are lauding a $2 million settlement for three lawsuits against Schnitzer Steel regarding Clean Water Act violations at 11 scrap metal facilities in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Puerto Rico.

The company’s stormwater runoff has been polluting nearby rivers and coastlines with toxic metals like lead, zinc, copper, and petroleum products every time it rains, according to the Conservation Law Foundation. Schnitzer will pay nearly $2 million to several groups working to clean up these rivers and waters.

“It’s about time this multi-billion-dollar company complied with the law,” Conservation Law Foundation Attorney Chelsea Kendall said in a statement Monday. “Toxic runoff from Schnitzer’s facilities has been contaminating waters that people depend on for drinking and recreation. This $2 million settlement will go a long way towards cleaning up these rivers and ensuring the company ends this harmful pollution.”

The polluting Schnitzer facilities are in Attleboro, Worcester, and Everett; in Manchester and Concord, New Hampshire; and in Bayamón, Caguas, Canovanas, Ponce, and Salinas, Puerto Rico, officials said.

“Every time it rains, toxic chemicals from the piles of broken and rusted metal on each of these sites flow directly to the Blackstone River, the Merrimack River, the Mystic River, and several bays and rivers in Puerto Rico,” the Conservation Law Foundation said in a statement. “This type of runoff causes poor water quality, harming natural ecosystems and marine life.”

Mystic River Watershed Association Executive Director Patrick Herron said in a statement, “Everyone deserves access to nature, greenspace, and a healthy environment.”

“For many of our environmental justice communities in the Lower Mystic--the Mystic River is that important and treasured resource. Our organization works toward a vision of a waterfront and river that is clean and welcoming for all,” Herron said. “These mitigation funds will power the scientific monitoring, analysis, and investment to reduce pollution to the river--getting us closer to our vision for this river and our residents.”

The settlement will help monitor the environment in these locations, Blackstone River Coalition Coordinator Peter Coffin said in a statement.

“The Blackstone River Coalition is truly grateful for the funding to continue the systematic monitoring of seventy-five sites by more than 100 well-trained, dedicated citizen scientists,” said Coffin. “Along with our partners, we look forward to developing access to the River and providing public education and outreach to environmental justice communities throughout the watershed.”

The case also highlights the importance of environmental laws being enforced, Greenroots Executive Director Roseann Bongiovanni said in a statement

“Environmental justice communities have a disproportionate share of toxic and environmental burdens,” said Bongiovanni. “It is gratifying to see environmental laws being enforced, violators being penalized and mitigation funds being invested in neighborhoods impacted by decades of environmental injustice and toxic harm. With the mitigation funding GreenRoots received from this settlement, we will be increasing access to the Mill Creek waterfront for our residents and neighboring communities. We will be improving water quality, restoring estuaries and putting the health and well-being of our community first. We’re proud to partner with CLF on major environmental wins for our community and all environmental justice communities.”

The settlement will allow for the restoration of eroded shorelines, and reducing stormwater pollution in the Merrimack, said Merrimack River Watershed Council Executive Director Curt Rogers in a statement.

“We will also be able to remove outdated dams and inadequate culverts, which can cause flooding and poor water quality, and are often harmful to fish migration and habitat,” Rogers said. “The Merrimack is the region’s largest source of drinking water, with over 700,000 people depending on it. Maintaining a healthy and clean river is a necessity.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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