The company which owns a now-shuttered camping gear manufacturer in New Haven was sued last week by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

New Haven was the headquarters for American Recreation Products, a division of Town and Country-based Kellwood Co., until 1997. The company operated a metal fabrication plant there from 1973 to 1985.

The ground around the site of the company’s manufacturing plant was found to be contaminated with tetrachloroethyelene, or PCE, a solvent used to clean metal.

EPA officials told The Missourian previously that former employees of American Recreational Products have admitted to dumping PCE and other contaminants into the sewer system.

The lawsuit filed Friday, July 6, says Kellwood is responsible for operable units 2 and 6 — two of the six units which make up the federal superfund cleanup site, which includes a large portion of the town and surrounding area.

The company entered into a settlement in the case Tuesday afternoon, after The Missourian went to press.

The settlement requires Kellwood to clean up the contaminated soil and groundwater at the two operable units and to pay past and future response costs.

Steve Roth, New Haven city administrator, said he spoke recently with the EPA superfund project manager. That official said the lawsuit is more about enforcement action than placing blame on the company.

A call to the EPA was not returned before The Missourian went to press.

Hoping for Action

Roth said the lawsuit will hopefully speed up the cleanup process.

“We don’t really know anymore than you do,” Roth told The Missourian Monday, before the company agreed to the settlement.

“When Kellwood entered into the record of decision for OU2 and OU6, it specified certain things they were going to do,” he said. “To our knowledge, little of that has occurred. When the lawsuit was filed, I figured the EPA was going to force Kellwood to act by order of the court.”

Kellwood officials have entered into agreements with the EPA to cover the cost of cleanup as well as provide impacted residents with home water filtration units.

Seeking Reimbursement

The lawsuit claims the EPA had “unreimbursed response costs... in the amount of $26,728.11” as of Oct. 31, 2011.

The suit asks for a judgment against the company “for all costs incurred by the United States and (Missouri) in connection with operable units 2 and 6 of the site, plus interest” and for a declaratory judgment on liability for response costs which would “be binding on any subsequent action or actions to recover further response costs.”

PCE is considered a likely carcinogen, or cancer-causing compound, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The chemical also depresses the central nervous system and could potentially be linked to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Parkinson’s Institute.

The superfund site was created in 2000, but the chemical was detected in public water wells, soil, trees and the city’s sanitary sewer system in 1986.

The contaminated public wells were since closed.

“Our drinking water wells now have not had any violations,” Roth said. “We have excellent water, but it’s unfortunate that there has been some bad press to some degree.”

An EPA official told The Missourian last year that cleanup would take a long time, in part because the chemical is considered a DNAPL, or dense nonaqueous phase liquid.

That means it is more dense than water and is insoluble in water.

Wells have been used to try to physically pump the compound out of the ground since 2008.

A chemical oxidant also has been injected into the ground to destroy the PCE.

Remedial plans already have been instituted at the four other operable units.

Roth said he hopes the remaining units are cleaned up soon.

“We have seven or eight industrial lots, totalling about 24 acres. Most are not in the direct path of the plume, but it is all thrown together,” he said.

“We’re looking for that end date when the EPA says there is no issue any more,” Roth said.

He said that while the lots could be used for industrial buildings currently, new construction would require significantly more red tape because of the area being declared a superfund site.

“We’re still waiting for some sort of resolution,” he said.

American Recreation Products is now headquartered in Boulder, Colo. The company is no longer a unit of Kellwood, but is owned by Sun Capital Partners, a private equity firm that also owns Kellwood.