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Dedham Water Co. v. Cumberland Farms Dairy, Inc.

Citation: 19 ELR 20487
No. Nos. 82-3155-T et al., 689 F. Supp. 1223/28 ERC 1060/(D. Mass., 07/14/1988) Judgment for defendant

The court holds that chemical releases from defendant's facility did not cause plaintiff's groundwater contamination, and defendant is therefore not liable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) or state statutory and common law. The court first rules that causation is a necessary element of a CERCLA § 107 claim that involves contamination allegedly moving from one site to another, and plaintiffs in such cases must prove that the defendants' releases had some effect on plaintiffs' sites. The court next holds that plaintiff in this case failed to offer sufficient evidence that the chemical releases at defendant's facility caused any contamination of the groundwater supply at plaintiff's nearby property. Extensive groundwater monitoring studies indicated that the contamination of plaintiff's groundwater was caused by a single plume emanating from sources other than defendant's facility. Although defendant did spill chemicals onto the ground, they appear to have been impeded from moving into the groundwater supply by a layer of peat below defendant's drainage, as well as by evaporation and the tendency of the contaminants to be captured by petroleum distillates also discharged by defendant. In addition, the contaminants released at defendant's facility and those found in plaintiff's groundwater were an inconclusive match, and soil samples taken at defendant's drainage ditch showed none of the alleged contamination. Furthermore, defendant's property contained a groundwater well that operated for many years and that would have captured any groundwater contamination caused by defendant's activities. Finally, the chemicals spilled at defendant's site would not have had time to biodegrade to the same anaerobic contaminants present in plaintiff's groundwater. The court identifies two probable continuing sources, upgradient from defendant, of plaintiff's groundwater contamination.

[Other decisions in this litigation are published at 14 ELR 20838, 16 ELR 20787, and 17 ELR 20223.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Thomas F. Holt Jr.
DiCara, Selig, Sawyer & Holt
Three Center Plaza, Boston MA 02106
(617) 523-1800

Counsel for Defendant
Allan Van Gestel
Goodwin, Procter & Hoar
Exchange Place, Boston MA 02109
(617) 570-1000