$400,000 Tab for Environmental Violations

Justice Department and U. of Miami near settlement of charges that researchers released hazardous substances -- 50 years ago.
August 25, 2006

For 20 years in the middle of the 20th century, University of Miami researchers worked in leased land on the grounds of a former naval air station in Perrine, Fla.

During that time, scientists "conducted medical and biological research using radioactive materials," "disposed of radionuclides by burying them in trenches" at the Richmond Naval Air Station, and similarly "disposed of radiated animal carcasses, derived from radiological experiments," according to documents filed in federal court by U.S. Justice Department officials.

And some of those "hazardous substances," federal officials assert, "have been pumped, poured, emitted, discharged, dumped, or injected, or otherwise spilled, leaked, escaped or leached, into surface water, ground water, drinking water supply, land surface or subsurface strata, or ambient air."

On Thursday, the Justice Department announced that it had filed a consent decree in federal court in south Florida under which the university would pay $393,473 (plus interest) to cover the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' costs of cleaning up the mess that Miami researchers allegedly created. (The initial complaint filed by the Justice Department said that the Army had incurred about double that amount, $763,336.66, in response costs so far.) According to the complaint, a radiological survey in 1985 found several "hazardous substances" -- cesium-137, cobalt-60, Hydrogen-3 and carbon-14 -- at the site, and a 2001 geophysical survey found metallic material in 12 trenches.

Under the agreement, which Miami officials have not yet signed and as a result have not yet formally agreed to, the university would not admit to any liability. A spokeswoman for the university said that because the matter is still pending in court, Miami officials would not comment right now.

The government seeks compensation from the university, which now owns the property in question, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as the Superfund law. 


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