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Court: New Cassel water contamination suit can resume

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman shown

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman shown in a file photo on Sept. 19, 2012. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

A state lawsuit that seeks to hold owners and operators of businesses in the New Cassel Industrial Area financially responsible for groundwater contamination can go forward, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The lawsuit seeks to hold more than 50 current and former owners and operators accountable for costs associated with "investigating and addressing groundwater contamination" in the New Cassel Industrial Area, court filings state.

The state has incurred about $4 million in cleanup costs in the area, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement. However, the total bill could end up being in the tens of millions of dollars, state officials said.

A federal district court judge ruled in favor of the defendants, but a panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan reversed that decision Tuesday.

Schneiderman said in a statement the ruling "appropriately holds polluters responsible for paying the cleanup costs."

He added the decision "reaffirms the critical authority of state and local governments to take necessary actions to protect the public from dangerous chemicals."

Attempts to reach defendants were not successful.

The lower court judge had ruled that the lawsuit was "time-barred," and that the state had missed the deadline. But the appeals court panel ruled that the actions to remove contaminants were "taken to address immediate threats to public health," and because of that, the state's lawsuit was filed in time.

The lower court "erred in applying the statute of limitations for remedial rather than removal actions," wrote Judge Denny Chin, a member of the panel.

The 170-acre industrial area sits atop an aquifer in which groundwater flows about 55 to 65 feet below the surface, the court's decision states. In 1989, Hempstead Town detected contaminants in water supply wells about 1,500 feet from the industrial area in the direction of the flow of groundwater, the decision states.

Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray issued a statement that applauded the decision, which she said holds "generators of groundwater contamination responsible for the costs associated with treating water."

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