Lehigh Settles Cupertino Pollution Lawsuit

A lawsuit over pollutants from a Lehigh Hanson cement processing plant in unincorporated Cupertino, Calif., was settled for $10 million, according to a U.S. District Court consent decree dated April 24.

Two local subsidiaries of Texas-based cement company Lehigh Hanson Inc., Lehigh Southwest Cement Company and Hanson Permanente Cement Inc., were sued by the Sierra Club in December 2011 for discharging pollutants into nearby Permanente Creek.

According to terms of the settlement, Lehigh will pay at least $10 million to implement a water treatment system. The company has until August to find a contractor for the project; water treatment must start by Oct. 1, 2014. The settlement also establishes a $12 million surety bond to guarantee that the work is done.

The case involved the release of the chemical selenium – which is not toxic to humans, but is harmful to microorganisms and fish in high concentrations – into the water.

“You’re upsetting the whole ecology of the creek,” said Mike Ferreira, an executive committee member of the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Lehigh does make efforts to get rid of the stuff, but selenium is a salt. That’s tough to get out of water.” Both the Environmental Protection Agency and a federal court still must approve the settlement, which Ferreira said should be completed in about 45 days, assuming there are no discrepancies.

“We started from a common baseline, which was to restore Permanente Creek in a manner that is environmentally sound and, importantly, scientifically valid,” said Kari Saragusa, president of Lehigh Hanson’s West Region, in a statement. “The work that we have been doing in that regard – which includes erosion and sediment controls, and frequent monitoring and testing – can now be accelerated and built upon.”

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