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Three companies found liable for widespread PCB contamination in the Anniston, Ala., area reached an agreement with the federal government on measures to develop a cleanup plan. After at least a year of talks, a consent decree with Monsanto Co., its spin-off company Solutia Inc., and Pharmacia Corp. and the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department could be signed this week, an Environmental Protection Agency official said Monday. The agreement would force the companies to conduct a long-term Superfund evaluation of all the possible cancer-causing PCBs that leaked from the former Monsanto plant in western Anniston. The study would be used to develop a proposed plan for cleaning up the area, said Annie Godfrey, the Atlanta-based EPA official who will supervise the Anniston PCB Superfund investigation and cleanup. The signing would keep the polluted site off the EPA’s National Priorities List of the most contaminated sites in the country, Godfrey said. The agreement lets the EPA save time and money by having Solutia consent to the assessment, Godfrey said. Solutia pays for and conducts the evaluation with EPA oversight. Monsanto operated an Anniston plant that produced PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, for about four decades. It was used as an insulator in electrical transformers. Production ended in the early 1970s, with the government later banning the chemical as a potential cause of cancer and other health problems. In a state civil case filed by Anniston residents, Monsanto was found liable for property damage last month along with Solutia, a spin-off that now operates the plant, and Pharmacia, formed after Monsanto merged with Pharmacia & Upjohn in 2000. The amount they should pay the plaintiffs has not yet been determined. Under the consent decree, which The Anniston Star first reported Saturday, it could take several years for EPA to make a final decision on how much the companies must pay for a comprehensive cleanup. “I feel that this is one of the best consent decrees we’ve ever had,” Godfrey said. The agreement would not prevent the judge in the civil trial from ordering additional or speedier cleanup efforts. Donald Stewart, the plaintiffs’ attorney in the lawsuit, is for a more stringent cleanup than the EPA-mandated program. The judge in the case, Calhoun County Circuit Judge Joel Laird, says he will continue to consider a court-mandated cleanup. On Thursday, Laird appointed a special expert to assist him in the cleanup phase of the trial. Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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