Though it wasn't the initial or ultimate cause of the problem, Uniroyal Technology Corp. has agreed to pay for a small part of the environmental cleanup of a Mishawaka, Ind., factory complex formerly owned by a predecessor company, Uniroyal Plastics Co.
Sarasota, Fla.-based Uniroyal Technology avoided a potential lawsuit from the Environmental Protection Agency by agreeing to pay $525,000 to help clean the 43-acre industrial complex, Jeff Rea, Mishawaka director of economic development, said in a Feb. 23 telephone interview.
The manufacturing complex was built in 1833. As it expanded, its 30-plus factories made everything from flannel underwear to boats, he said.
During its heyday in the early 1900s, the factories employed nearly 10,000. Following World War II, businesses began to close, eventually allowing Uniroyal Plastics to consume the entire site by the 1960s, Rea said.
During its many years of production in Mishawaka, Uniroyal Plastics manufactured various rubber and plastic products and materials, including Naugahyde, a trademark vinyl-coated fabric, said Ken Theisen, an EPA representative who oversaw the cleanup of the site.
As work at the once-booming Uniroyal complex began to dwindle, the parent company of Uniroyal Plastics declared bankruptcy in 1991. As various divisions of the company were sold, Uniroyal Technology emerged and leased the building until April 1997, when it closed the plants.
Uniroyal Plastics had begun to clean up the factories to be sold, but went bankrupt before finishing the project, Theisen said.
EPA stepped in and spent $1.5 million last summer to remove hazardous materials, finding chemicals, mercury, asbestos and radioactive waste, he said. Much of the contamination was found in a 450-foot waterway running under the site, formerly used to provide power to the plants. When the factories ceased to use it for power, the tunnel, which emptied into the St. James River, was used as a chemical sewer, Theisen said.
The tunnel had long since been sealed off from the river by thick concrete walls but still held 3,000 tons of water, oil and sludge contaminated with polychlorinated bisphenols and other chemicals.
The city of Mishawaka will finish the cleanup and demolish the old Uniroyal site. The total cost of the project will hover around $11 million, Rea said.
Though he doesn't believe the settlement was fair, Theisen said there was nothing else EPA could do.
``You can't get blood out of a turnip. Uniroyal Plastics is no longer in existence,'' he said. But the settlement holds Uniroyal Technology responsible for any future hazardous-waste removal involving EPA, he said.
EPA also currently is clearing two nearby former Uniroyal sites of hazardous waste. EPA is footing the bill to clean up a former Uniroyal Plastics factory near Mishawaka. But Uniroyal Technology will help fund cleanup of a chemical dump site in downtown Mishawaka.
Uniroyal Technology officials in Sarasota did not return telephone calls.