Increased attention is being paid to Tetra Tech’s alleged botched cleanup of hazardous grounds in Hunters Point — especially after Tuesday when Bayview District residents filed a class-action lawsuit for $27 billion.
As SF Weekly previously reported, Tetra Tech was contracted to clean up a former U.S. Navy shipyard that the Environmental Protection Agency declared it Superfund site in 1989. But the EPA found that 97 percent of soil samples in one section and 90 percent of another section didn’t look right, which the company denies.
Last month, a watchdog group in Washington D.C., Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, revealed that the EPA suspected the fraud was further-reaching than initially thought. The document dump unleashed a torrent of fury and desperate questions regarding safety and now, at least 149 plaintiffs have joined the lawsuit to seek $27 billion in damages, the San Francisco Examiner reports.
“Why $27 billion? Because it’s not enough,” said Charles Bonner, the plaintiff’s attorney, at a press conference Tuesday. “Because it’s a language they understand.”
The amount of money certainly catches even more attention. Is it too high when compared to other environmental settlements? Too low? Here’s how it stacks up against cases in the modern era.
The 2010 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people and let millions of barrels of oil into the water, dramatically damaging local ecosystems and the livelihood of the surrounding economy.
It took until 2015 for BP to reach a lump settlement of $20.8 billion with the U.S. government and five Gulf states — one of the largest environmental settlements in the country’s history. Plus, it was fined a record $4 billion by the U.S. Department of Justice.
California and the Trump administration may have entered a battle over fuel efficiency standards but Volkswagen found a way around requirements to lower the environmental impact of vehicles years ago. In 2015, it admitted that it cheated on emissions tests for millions of cars running on diesel after knowing as far back as 2006 that its then-new engine would not match regulations, CNN reported.
The company reached a $15 billion settlement in 2016 to buy back diesel cars sold in the United States or pay cash to owners who wanted to fix them. In September, it announced that it set aside additional money to buy back cars, costing a total of $30 billion to fix the mess they made themselves.
In February, 57 California dealerships affiliated with AutoNation were ordered to pay $2.1 million for illegally dumping hazardous waste and violating state laws regarding storage of related materials. The fines were part of a $3.38 million settlement by six California district attorneys, The Mercury News reported.
Hazardous materials included automotive fluids, used oil filters and motor oil, electronic waste, and aerosol cans. Invoices and personal information of customers were also found in the trash, which the Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health found after opening the case in 2013. Alameda County investigators joined the undercover inspections to expose the illegal disposal.
Minnesota saw the end of its biggest environmental lawsuit after 3M settled for $850 million for decades-long pollution of groundwater, the Star Tribune reported. The company makes products like Teflon and Scotchguard, which contain perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) that ended up in water sources east of St. Paul.
3M agreed to pay another $40 million over five years as part of a remediation agreement to address contamination and improve drinking water.
One thread linking environmental settlements like these? Time. Bayview District residents and plaintiffs will likely wait several years to see a conclusion — but don’t expect them to stay quiet in the meantime.