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Environmental trust wants reimbursement for water treatment plant

Updated June 28, 2021 - 7:40 pm

The Nevada Environmental Response Trust spent millions of dollars to set up and operate a temporary water treatment facility near the Las Vegas Wash with the goal of removing a hazardous chemical from groundwater before it could reach Lake Mead.

Now, the trust asserts that American Pacific Corp., the corporate successor to PEPCON, was primarily responsible for the contaminated area that it ultimately cleaned up, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

“The purpose of this lawsuit is to recover costs that the Trust incurred treating hazardous substances that originated from the Defendant’s PEPCON site,” attorney Josh Reid, who is representing the trust, said in a statement. The lawsuit said the trust has incurred more than $36 million in costs.

American Pacific did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2017, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection ordered the trust to start treating perchlorate-contaminated groundwater near the wash, according to the lawsuit. Doing so would allow the Southern Nevada Water Authority to work on flow-control structures called weirs to reduce erosion within the wash.

The groundwater was projected to contain about 3 tons of perchlorate, the lawsuit states. Extracting the groundwater without treating it would have sent the perchlorate into the wash, which flows into Lake Mead, according to the complaint.

Perchlorate is a common ingredient of rocket fuel. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, high dosages of perchlorate can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones in humans.

In the late 1990s, the chemical was found in Lake Mead and the Colorado River water that serves the Southwest. The contamination was traced back to the old Kerr-McGee chemical plant northeast of U.S. Highway 95 and Lake Mead Parkway. Cleanup efforts since 1997 have reduced the amount of perchlorate to barely detectable levels in the lake.

In 2005, Kerr-McGee spun off a subsidiary named Tronox, according to the Division of Environmental Protection.

The Nevada Environmental Response Trust assumed ownership and cleanup responsibility for the site after Tronox filed for bankruptcy.

About the time the trust was ordered to perform cleanup near the wash, an analysis submitted to regulators showed most of the perchlorate in the project area was from American Pacific, according to the lawsuit.

Additional study, including chemical “fingerprinting,” confirmed the vast majority of the perchlorate the trust treated came from the American Pacific site, the lawsuit states.

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

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