Chemical company parent promises cleanup; state skeptical

Tronox Worldwide, the company that owns a chemical manufacturing plant in Henderson and filed for bankruptcy Monday, has assured state officials that it will continue cleaning up perchlorate contamination in the Las Vegas Wash.

But one state official is skeptical.

“We’re not taking the company’s word there at face value,” said Dante Pistone, spokesman for the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. “We will be following the Chapter 11 (bankruptcy case) very closely.”

Tronox Inc. and 14 other affiliated companies, including Tronox Worldwide, filed in New York for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The companies will continue operations while trying to reorganize their debts and liabilities.

Kerr-McGee Corp. of Oklahoma City spun off Tronox in 2006, and Tronox assumed some “legacy liabilities” as part of the spinoff.

Tronox intends to continue the cleanup, however, Tronox spokesman Robert Gibney said.

“Long-term responsibility for that responsibility could change,” he added. “It could go back to the former parent company.”

Most of the legacy liabilities stem from environmental problems, but they also include pension and medical benefits for retirees. One of the environmental liabilities stems from perchlorate contamination in the Las Vegas Wash.

Since 1998, Kerr-McGee and the successor companies have been gradually cleaning perchlorate from underground water. Underground water is treated with microscopic “bugs” that consume perchlorate, said Gibney.

Dennis Wanlass, chairman and chief executive of Tronox Inc., on Monday said the companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy “to address the company’s debt, in particular its legacy liabilities.”

State officials take comfort from the fact that insurance policies are helping to pay for the environmental work in Henderson, Pistone said.

While Pistone couldn’t quote what percentage of the environmental work has been completed, he said, “suffice it to say that they are well along in the process.”

In another development Tuesday, Reuters reported that the bankruptcy judge authorized the debtor to borrow $100 million in financing. The company originally asked for $125 million but the judge said it could return later and seek approval for another $25 million.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at jedwards@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0420.

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