Calcasieu River

The $5.5 million that nine area oil refineries and chemical companies agreed to pay the federal government for their role in polluting parts of the northern Calcasieu River estuary isn’t sufficient enough to cover decades’ worth of damages, the head of a longtime environmental nonprofit group said Wednesday.

“This is a deep injustice, and it affects everybody,” said Michael Tritico, a biologist and president of Restore Explicit Symmetry To Our Ravaged Earth, or RESTORE. “That’s not really fair to the people that got sickened, or the seafood that got contaminated, or the commercial fishermen that have to deal with ongoing seafood advisories.”

The Justice Department announced the settlement this month. The companies paying the $5.5 million include Axiall Corp., Citgo Petroleum Corp., Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC, Bridgestone Americas Inc., Firestone Polymers LLC, Occidental Chemical Corp., OXY USA Inc., PPG Industries Inc., and Westlake Polymers LLC.

A complaint filed in federal court stated the contamination took place over several years, with the plants disposing and releasing hazardous chemicals into the waterways.

The settlement amount covers less than half of the $13 million spent by the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the site. The $5.5 million will go to the EPA’s Hazardous Substance Superfund.

Tritico, who started RESTORE in 1974, said the settlement amount is a drop in the bucket compared to the combined net income of the companies involved in the legal action. He based the net income using the Securities and Exchange Commission’s 10-K financial performance reports, which publicly-traded companies must file annually.

“If you add them all up, what they’re going to pay will cost one day’s worth of income or less,” he said. “The companies are laughing at everybody. It’s absurd. They use the environment as a dump site for free and, in the process, ruin the seafood industry and make people sick.”

With some plants involved in the settlement having operated as early as 1920. Tritico, 77, said he isn’t optimistic things will improve.

“I don’t think there are going to be any changes,” he said. “I have tried all through the years to work through the system. The system is a phantom, and it still is.”

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