Environment

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has agreed to pay $5 million to the federal government to settle a pair of 17-year-old lawsuits over contamination from hazardous waste at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The agreement is tentative until approved by the federal government.

The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy. From the 1960s until 2013, the facility enriched uranium for nuclear power plants. The plant hasn’t operated since 2013, and now the government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to decontaminate and decommission the property.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Lockheed Martin and its subsidiaries were contractors at the plant. The lawsuits allege the company didn’t properly handle, store and transport hazardous waste, like companies are required to under federal law. The lawsuits also claim Lockheed Martin knew it was improperly handling and storing the hazardous waste, and lied about it to the federal government.

The hazardous waste in question includes chemicals like hydrofluoric acid, a contact poison, and trichloroethylene, a probable carcinogen. TCE contaminated the groundwater on the plant’s site, too.

The lawsuits cover the period between 1984 and 1998, and were originally filed in 1999 by the U.S. Department of Justice, environmental non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council and several former employees of the plant.

From the complaint:

“Defendants knew of substantial non-compliances with [the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act] that they failed to report to the government. Those non-compliances included the illegal storage of hazardous wastes in approximately 150 areas known as “Material Storage Areas” or “MSA’s,” as well as the defendants’ failure to make hazardous waste determinations, their failure to comply with land disposal restrictions for hazardous waste, their failure to comply with hazardous waste shipment requirements, their operation of a hazardous waste disposal facility without a permit or interim status, and their failure to comply with RCRA permit conditions…Furthermore, defendants knowingly concealed the fact that large quantities of waste contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) from degreasing activities at the PGDP constituted ‘listed’ hazardous waste.”

The $5 million settlement is paltry compared to what Lockheed Martin was paid in awards and incentive pay for a job the company allegedly wasn’t performing. The lawsuit lays out more than $100 million dollars the government paid Lockheed Martin, noting that had authorities known the violations were occurring, they wouldn’t have paid such high amounts.

Calls to lawyers representing the plaintiffs weren’t returned Thursday.

A spokesperson for Lockheed Martin also didn’t return calls for comment, but in the company’s annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission filed Wednesday the company included notice of the tentative settlement.

“We believe that we have substantial defenses to all of the allegations and have agreed to settle the case to avoid the costs of further litigation of this matter which has been ongoing in excess of 16 years,” the report said. “We will admit no liability or wrongdoing in resolving the matter.”

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.