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UP to EPA: Railroad shouldn't foot entire soil clean-up bill in Omaha


Union Pacific Railroad officials disagree with a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) order to continue cleaning up lead-contaminated soil at residences in the Omaha, Neb., area. The homes are located on land the railroad leased to a smelter more than 60 years ago. The smelter, which operated a lead refinery on the site for more than 120 years, recently filed for bankruptcy.

UP would need to spend $50 million or more to comply with the order even though the railroad didn’t contribute “one molecule of lead” to the site, officials said in a prepared statement. Because UP owned the facility part of the time the smelter was in operation, the railroad is a responsible party under the Superfund law, EPA officials claim.

“The Superfund law imposes liability only on parties who owned or operated contaminated sites, or arranged for the disposal of hazardous substances on such sites,” UP officials said. “Union Pacific clearly does not fall into any of those categories.”

EPA officials are concerned children in the area will be exposed to lead.

“As kids play in their yards and neighborhoods, the EPA wants to make sure parents have the peace of mind that comes with a clean environment,” said EPA Region 7 Administrator Jim Gulliford.

The Class I offered to spend more than $15 million to clean up some of the contaminated soil but the EPA turned down the proposal, UP officials claim.

“Even if Union Pacific were deemed liable, it could only be liable for a small fraction of clean-up costs, given the existence of other responsible parties and its limited ownership of the smelter property,” officials said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/11/2006