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WWII Plant’s Legacy Dogs S-W in Suit

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

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A former U.S. munitions facility where Sherwin-Williams Defense Corp. once painted bombshells is now the subject of a $3.7 million legal demand for cleanup costs.

In a federal-court lawsuit filed Thursday (Jan. 30), insurance giant AIG is seeking to have the federal government and Sherwin-Williams pony up the sum as reimbursement for the cleanup that AIG underwrote for the site's later tenant.

AIG Specialty Insurance Co. says it reimbursed Illinois Tool Works $3,761,227 for a federally ordered cleanup of hazardous substances at the site.

Although ITW conducted the cleanup, AIG argues that the mess was the responsibility of the federal government, which owns the site, and Sherwin-Williams, which operated the facility before ITW.

Sherwin-Williams did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Painting Bombshells

The 3.5-acre industrial facility, known as Site 14, is located within what is now the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Site near Marion, IL.

However, from 1942 to 1945, the Sherwin Williams Defense Corp. operated the Illinois Ordnance Plant, a bomb and munitions plant, at the site under a contract with the U.S. War Department. Sherwin-Williams painted and cleaned 500-pound bomb shells at the facilities.

Illinois Ordinance plant
WISU Public Broadcasting

In 1947, the U.S. built the Illinois Ordnance Plant to manufacture and produce bombs.

During that time, Sherwin-Williams used two large above-ground tanks to store solvents, including paint thinner, which was transported into buildings at the site through underground pipes. These tanks "were the property and responsibility" of the U.S. and/or Sherwin-Williams, AIG contends.

After the war, the site was transferred to the War Assets Administration, which leased many of the former ordnance plant buildings to industrial tenants. In 1947, Congress established the 43,000-acre Refuge and turned over the area to the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fish & Wildlife was tasked with both managing the refuge and supporting private industrial activity on certain portions of the site.

Cleanups, Chemicals and Superfund

In 1947, a company called Diagraph began to use Site 14 for ink and stencil manufacturing. Both Sherwin-Williams and Diagraph used solvents at the site, Fish & Wildlife later determined.

Sherwin-Williams' two tanks remained on the site when Diagraph moved in; at that time, the tanks were about one-third full of a liquid, "which looked and smelled like solvent," the complaint says.

Diagraph never used the tanks and or assumed responsibility for them, according to the complaint.

Also after the war, the Interior Department and its contractors "conducted decontamination of many of the [ordnance] buildings, including those located at Site 14, using chemicals and cleaning solvents," AIG's complaint contends.

Site 14 cleanup
Marion Illinois History Preservation

AIG says the U.S. and Sherwin-Williams are responsible for millions of dollars in cleanup costs related to painting and cleaning operations for World War II-era bombs.

The Interior Department "oversaw, managed, and otherwise executed control over the disposal of all wastes, both hazardous and non-hazardous, at Site 14," AIG's complaint states.

In 1986, Fish & Wildlife removed the two Sherwin-Williams tanks from Site 14. The next year, the entire Refuge property was added to the Superfund National Priorities list.

In 1988, an investigation identified seven Refuge sites (including Site 14) that needed remediation.

Remediation Orders

In 2001, a Fish & Wildlife Service Record of Decision for Site 14 determined that the area's soil and groundwater contained excessive amounts of toluene, benzene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, methylene chloride, lead and chromium. The Record of Decision spelled out a remediation plan.

In 2001, ITW acquired Diagraph—and the problems of Site 14.

The federal remediation plan included removing the Former Repour Building (the former Paint Storage Building), excavating and removing contaminated soil, and pumping and treating contaminated seepage water.

In 2002, the EPA issued a Unilateral Administrative Order to Diagraph (by then, ITW Diagraph) to clean up the site. According to the AIG complaint, Diagraph and ITW complied and performed the remedial actions.

Underground Pipelines

During the cleanup, however, ITW's remedial contractor found two underground pipelines that originated in the former location of the above-ground storage tanks used by Sherwin-Williams, AIG said.

"Based on field observations and the results of soil groundwater sampling conducted prior to and during the remedial action, leaks in these pipelines were the primary source of soil and groundwater contamination at Site 14," the complaint alleges.

Nevertheless, ITW remediated the site under federal oversight and in compliance with all regulations. The EPA confirmed that field work at Site 14 was complete in 2011 and certified that all remedial actions at Site 14 were complete in 2012.

Authorizing Action

ITW's insurance policy with AIG covered the tab.

All of the cleanup costs, the lawsuit alleges, were consistent with the National Contingency Plan, which provides guidelines and procedures for responding to releases and threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants.

The plan was revised under the Superfund legislation, officially known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA).

Crab Orchard Site
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge was put on the Superfund National Priorities List in 1987. AIG says its policy holder, Illinois Tool Works, has spent more than $3 million cleaning up the area.

Superfund created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries and established broad federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances. It also established requirements concerning closed and abandoned hazardous waste sites and spelled out liability for releases of hazardous waste at these sites.

Three Reimbursement Requests

Now, AIG says, it has been trying unsuccessfully to get reimbursed by the government and Sherwin-Williams, which it says owned and operated the site when the contamination occurred.

AIG says it has demanded reimbursement three times:

  • On April 28, 2008, from the U.S. for $3.3 million for costs ITW incurred up to that date to implement the remedy and comply with the cleanup order;
  • On July 23, 2013, from the U.S. for $3,745,477.97 in costs incurred up to that date; and
  • On Jan. 28, 2013, from Sherwin-Williams for $3,675,079 in response costs.

According to the complaint, the U.S. and Sherwin-Williams have refused to reimburse ITW.

AIG is seeking recovery of past and future response costs as well as a judicial declaration that the U.S. and Sherwin-Williams are liable for future response costs or damages.


Tagged categories: Cleanup; EPA; Good Technical Practice; Government contracts; Hazardous waste; Lawsuits; Sherwin-Williams

Comment from Stephen Winterrowd, (2/5/2014, 2:06 AM)

AIG needs to settle down. Didn't they just get bailed out by the tax payers ie the government!! Consider this a down payment back.

Comment from Jonathan Baker, (2/5/2014, 1:38 PM)

Sounds to me like the government dropped the ball several times...what a shock! The feds will now try to blame it all on S-W. but, in the end, both will have to pony up the dough.

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