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$50 Million for DuPont Mercury Releases in VA’s South River

leah kirk

WAYNESBORO, VA-- A $50 million settlement with DuPont $50 million pact was recently announced last month in Richmond, is easily the largest natural resource damage settlement in Virginia’s history. It stems from DuPont’s release of mercury from its Waynesboro plant into the South River. Mercury, which the company used as a catalyst in the manufacturing process of synthetic material, was released into the river for more than 20 years starting in 1929, the year the plant opened. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause significant neurological and developmental disorders in both humans and animals.

The Its release into the South River resulted in long-term contamination of more than 100 miles of river and surrounding floodplain, and damage to fish and other wildlife populations in and around the South River. DuPont has spent millions of dollars to mitigate the contamination and its effects on wildlife, and recently started a project in Waynesboro in which the company is containing mercury still imbedded in the banks along the South River. That project, and others like it, are separate from the recently announced settlement.

The agreement calls for DuPont to pay $42.3 million in cash and to fund the design and implantation of a fish hatchery in Front Royal. Other projects include land restoration and protection initiatives, improvements to fish habitat and other wildlife and recreational enhancements.

But under terms of the settlement, no definitive amount of money or projects are earmarked for Waynesboro. Two projects outlined in the agreement include potential benefits to the city, but there are no guarantees those projects will come to fruition, or, if they do, that they will benefit Waynesboro specifically.

                “It’s so inequitable,” said one Waynesboro activist. “The city not being guaranteed any specific funding or project from the settlement. It’s a tragic loss for the community.  Why, for instance, is Front Royal, which is 100 miles to the north of the mercury release site, getting a multi-million dollar fish hatchery, while the city that has had its banks and waterway contaminated at the source gets no guaranteed payment?”

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