By Miles Moore, Senior Washington reporter
DES MOINES, Iowa (Feb. 28, 2014) — A federal judge in Des Moines has ordered Titan Tire Corp. and Dico Inc. to pay nearly $3.1 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for tearing down buildings the agency said were contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other hazardous pollutants.
Titan President and CEO Maurice "Morry" Taylor said his company will appeal.
According to Mr. Taylor, only about 41/100th ounce of PCBs — roughly a teaspoonful — was ever found at the building site. He also said the EPA and the court ignored evidence of other companies' dumping wastes at the site; of homeless persons' squatting in the vacant buildings; and of methamphetamine labs' operating in the woods nearby.
"The whole thing is a big joke," Mr. Taylor said. "There are some judges who just assume that if the government says something, it must be right."
The Justice Department sued Titan and Dico in Des Moines federal district court in October 2010, on behalf of the EPA. The suit claimed Titan and Dico violated Superfund statutes at the Des Moines building site.
According to the 2010 complaint, the EPA ordered Dico in the early 1990s to conduct a remedial investigation of the buildings in question, which were in severe disrepair. Dico's contractor found a number of contaminants in the buildings, including PCBs, the complaint said.
A flood in July 1993 devastated the Des Moines site, according to the complaint. Shortly thereafter, Titan acquired Dico and its parent company, Dyneer Corp. Titan told the EPA at the time that it planned to clean and renovate the buildings.
The EPA ordered Dico to submit a work plan for renovating the buildings in March 1994, the complaint said. Among other things, the agency required Dico to repair and encapsulate contaminated insulation at the site.
Dico told the EPA in May 1997 that the encapsulation was complete, and continued to file annual reports on the buildings for most years up to 2005, the complaint said.
In July 2003, Dico asked to stop monitoring the buildings, which the company was no longer using, and said it might dismantle or demolish the buildings. In September, the EPA denied the request. It told Dico it must coordinate any demolition plans with the agency, and allow the agency to oversee them, the complaint said.
By 2005, the buildings were again dilapidated, according to the complaint. In July 2007, Titan hired Ottumwa, Iowa-based Southern Iowa Mechanical (SIM) to dismantle the buildings.
SIM performed the work between August and November 2007 and hauled the buildings' steel structural beams to Ottumwa, not knowing that PCBs had been found on the site, the complaint said.
At the EPA's request, Titan and Dico completed removal of contaminated soil and beams from the De Moines site by October 2009, the complaint said. However, the agency incurred at least $94,000 in costs in responding to the release of PCBs, it said.
The EPA requested civil and punitive damages against Dico. On Feb. 24, 2014, Judge Robert W. Pratt ordered Titan and Dico to pay the EPA $1.62 million in civil penalties and $1.48 million in punitive damages.
There was no immediate word on when Titan would file its appeal.