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SPS LP v. Sparrows Point, LLC

ELR Citation: 47 ELR 20113
Nos. 14-cv-00589, (D. Md. , 09/06/2017) (Motz, J.)

A district court ruled that passive migration of benzene from a former steel mill to an adjoining shipyard does not make the owners liable for a "disposal" under CERCLA. The plaintiff's shipyard contained a "graving dock," which is used for the "repair or scrapping of ships under dry conditions." The shipyard's pumping system caused groundwater from the coke oven area of the defendant's steel mill to flow towards the dock. After realizing the pumping system's discharge data was not being collected, the Maryland Department of the Environment imposed limits on benzene discharges from the system. To comply with this new benzene limitation, the shipyard installed a benzene treatment system that removes benzene from the groundwater. It incurred over $1 million in costs for maintenance of the treatment system and sought compensation from the defendants. The defendants filed motions for summary judgment. The court held that since defendants acquired the steel mill without assuming liability for any environmental contamination that may have migrated from the property prior to that date, they were not responsible for any passive migration prior to the purchase date. Further, the court held that the passive migration from the coke oven area was not only the result of contamination of operations that had long since been abandoned, but was exacerbated by the plaintiff's own operations. The motion was granted.