AVX buys fouled land in Myrtle Beach

Source: Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC), May 24, 1011
Posted on: http://fpn.advisen.com

Electronic components maker AVX Corp. has purchased the Myrtle Beach property that it contaminated with a suspected carcinogen called trichloroethylene, according to Horry County property records.

AVX paid nearly $4.6 million for the approximately 21.5-acre parcel previously owned by Horry Land Co., according to a deed transfer recorded last week.

The property is across the street from the manufacturer’s facility along 17th Avenue South.

The price tag was less than the $5.4 million that Horry Land sought when it sued AVX over the contamination in October 2007. That lawsuit eventually was moved to federal court and the two sides reached a settlement agreement in midtrial earlier this year.

Those involved in the land sale could not be reached for comment Monday. AVX lawyer Kevin Dunlap, Horry Land officials and their lawyer, Saunders Bridges, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

They previously have declined to discuss the settlement because it includes a confidentiality agreement. It is not clear whether AVX provided any other compensation to Horry Land.

A federal judge this month ordered AVX to pay 100 percent of the environmental cleanup costs at the Horry Land property. AVX has estimated it will cost about $6.5 million to remove trichloroethylene, or TCE, from groundwater at the site.

AVX had claimed the military contributed to the contamination when it operated the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, which was adjacent to the manufacturer. Judge Terry Wooten, however, ruled that AVX was solely responsible for the pollution.

The purchase occurs as two pending lawsuits against AVX are winding their way through state court, although neither has been scheduled for trial.

In one lawsuit, the developer of a condominium project to be located near AVX said the plans had to be scuttled because of the contamination. The other lawsuit is a class action case filed by residents of a nearly 10-block Myrtle Beach neighborhood affected by the pollution. Both lawsuits seek unspecified actual and punitive damages against AVX.

AVX provided no details on its settlement with Horry Land in its annual report filed last week. The company only stated that the lawsuit had been resolved and “such resolution did not have a material impact on our results of operations or cash flows.”

Testimony and exhibits presented during the Horry Land trial in February showed AVX officials knew as early as June 1981 that TCE was potentially spreading through groundwater from the manufacturer’s site to adjacent properties, threatening city and private wells and the Pee Dee aquifer.

TCE is an industrial degreaser that has been linked to cancer and other health problems. AVX used as much as 400 tons of TCE each year for decades until discontinuing its use in 1986, according to court documents.

Trial exhibits showed an insurance company risk assessor told AVX in 1981 that as much as 6,200 gallons of TCE was being spilled into the ground each month at the 17th Avenue South facility. Another document showed that an underground tank and piping system used to store and pump TCE to the facility was faulty.

Despite consultants’ repeated warnings that testing was necessary, court testimony shows the company did nothing for decades to determine whether the pollution was a threat to its neighbors. When AVX finally told state regulators about the contamination in 1995, testimony showed the company downplayed the problem and said it was limited to the manufacturer’s site.

Although TCE is a health hazard, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control does not consider the pollution on Horry Land’s site and in the 10-block neighborhood to be dangerous because it is not used for drinking water.

Even though it is not a drinking source, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires that the groundwater’s TCE levels be reduced to no more than five parts per billion. A part per billion is a scientific measurement equivalent to 3 seconds out of a century.

Groundwater tests in 2006 showed TCE contamination as high as 18,200 parts per billion on the Horry Land property.

Experts disagree over how long it will take to clean up the groundwater near AVX. The company’s consultants say it can be cleaned within five years, while Horry Land’s consultants say a cleanup could take decades.

AVX — which moved its world headquarters from Myrtle Beach to Greenville in 2009 — has been paying for studies to determine the best way to clean up the pollution and expects to use a process called enhanced reductive chlorination, in which a substance similar to molasses is injected into the groundwater. The molasseslike mixture creates bacteria that eat the TCE, breaking it down into harmless matter.

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