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Pfizer Pays Record $3.1 Million Water-Pollution Penalty

May 1, 1991 GMT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Pfizer Inc. paid a record $3.1 million water-pollution penalty for discharges into the Delaware River, officials said Wednesday.

″No company will be allowed to profit from violating our environmental laws,″ EPA Administrator William Reilly said in a statement.

The civil settlement came in a lawsuit over discharges from an iron oxide plant formerly owned by the chemical company in Easton, about 50 miles north of Philadelphia.

The agreement between New York-based Pfizer and the Justice Department covers violations of local water treatment standards, the plant’s waste water permit and the 1972 Clean Water Act.

The chemical company admitted no liability in agreeing to the settlement. William Wisniewski, the EPA’s deputy regional administrator, said it was a record civil penalty for water pollution under the Clean Water Act.

U.S. Attorney Michael Baylson said the penalty includes money Pfizer saved by not installing necessary pollution control equipment.

″Pfizer is pleased that the government and the community are satisfied with the settlement and that all outstanding claims resulting from these issues have been finally resolved,″ Pfizer said in a statement.

The EPA said Pfizer’s violations contributed to major pollution problems in the Delaware and the failure of Easton’s sewage treatment plant.

″The failure of the treatment plant caused the discharge of minimally treated, and untreated, industrial and domestic sewage into the Delaware River over a period of years,″ the EPA said.

The EPA said pollutants were discharged at levels toxic to aquatic life that depleted the river’s oxygen supply.

But Pfizer said it was ″unaware of any evidence that Pfizer’s discharges caused any environmental harm or damage to aquatic life in the Delaware.″

Pfizer said the sewer authority was aware of the nature and quantity of the plant’s discharge, and even imposed a surcharge for its treatment. Sewer authority officials did not return calls seeking comment.

The pollutants were discharged from 1981 to 1987, when Pfizer owned and operated the synthetic magnetic iron oxide plant. The plant has since been purchased by Harcros Pigments Inc.

The processes at the plant blamed for the discharges have been halted. Mostly ammonia and iron oxide were released.

A citizens’ group sued Pfizer in 1988 and was later joined by the federal government. The group, Coalition of Religious and Civic Organizations, will get $320,000 for attorney’s fees under the settlement.

″It is only through serious fines such as those announced (Wednesday) that multinational corporations will stop polluting our nation,″ said Joseph Welsh, president of the organization.

Welsh said his group first approached the city and sewer authority in 1987 with evidence that Pfizer was dumping a ton of iron a day. He said the group was turned away and then went to federal officials.

The Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority, which serves 75,000 customers, undertook $14 million in renovations from 1988 to 1990, partly because of damage from the Pfizer pollutants, law officials said.

Baylson said his office still was pursuing civil cases against the city, the sewer authority and Harcros.