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Hercules fined $2M for Pa. Superfund release

JEFFERSON HILLS, Pa. (AP) -- A subsidiary of Ashland Inc. has been fined $2 million by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because toxic chemicals leaked from a Superfund cleanup site and fouled a sewage treatment plant, which had to be shut down for four days.

The EPA contends Hercules Inc. failed to tell the agency about the releases in March, April and July of 2011, which led to the shutdown of the West Elizabeth Sanitary Authority plant, where one worker was hospitalized after inhaling harmful fumes.

The chemicals leaked from the Resin Disposal Superfund site, where the defunct Pennsylvania Industrial Chemical Corp. dumped toxic chemicals including benzene, toluene and naphthalene from 1949 to 1964. Hercules, based in Wilmington, Del., bought the dump in Jefferson Hills in 1973 and agreed to the Superfund cleanup, which began in June 1995 and involved 85,000 tons of industrial waste.

The substances were supposed to be processed by an on-site treatment system, but some of them bypassed it and went to the local sewage plant instead, the EPA said.

Ashland spokesman Gary Rhodes said the company "takes environmental issues very seriously" and is "committed to acting responsibly."

"The facility had operated without issue for nearly 15 years," Rhodes said in a statement. "However, unanticipated weather events in 2011 — including prolonged heavy rain and electrical power outages — contributed to the releases."

Hercules now monitors the site's treatment system during heavy rains and did report the incidents to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Rhodes said. Hercules also now has a system to inform and assist the municipal sewage plant if more toxins are released in the future.