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Beech-Nut Refuses EPA Cleanup Order

Lucas Willard

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the former owners of a shuttered baby food factory in the Mohawk Valley to clean up the site. But the former owners say it’s not their problem.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in April ordered the Beech-Nut Corporation to remove hazardous asbestos waste from the site of their former factory in Canajoharie.

But the company is pushing back. Company spokesperson Kirsten Whipple.

“Beech-Nut has requested that the EPA withdraw the administrative order as we feel we should not be held responsible for asbestos-related issues caused by improper disposal procedures after we sold the property in 2013,” said Whipple.

Back in 2013 Beech-Nut, which had operated in the small town for more than a century, sold the plant to TD Development. A call to a number listed for TD Development was not returned in time for this broadcast.

While some of the buildings have been demolished, debris piles remain. Much of the sprawling 1-million square foot plant is intact, though buildings have been stripped of wiring and other fixtures.

The leaky, empty factory buildings take up about a third of downtown Canajoharie and local officials have been waiting to do something with the site.

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort says the current owners still owe the county about $1.7 million in taxes. But Ossenfort is also among the county officials preparing for the possibility of foreclosure and the chance to do more at the location.

“Yes, we know at some point there was going to be some legal hurdles that needed to be overcome and that would likely be part of the process, but from the beginning we said, ‘Let’s see how we can work as a team to bring in resources to do something special at that site.’ And that’s really where our attention is focused,” said Ossenfort.

Earlier this year, the county received a $500,000 grant from New York state and a $300,000 grant from National Grid to demolish structures on the property, but Ossenfort has warned that no work would be done unless EPA releases the county from liability.

Without that release, the county could face significant cleanup costs. The county is still negotiating. 

Meanwhile, EPA continues to look for a cleanup strategy, but not provide WAMC with many details.

In an email, EPA Press Officer Tayler Covington wrote that the agency has received Beech-Nut’s official response and that the asbestos at the site remains a concern.

He wrote, “The EPA continues to evaluate its options with respect to site cleanup. Because this is an ongoing enforcement matter, the EPA is not commenting on the next steps that the Agency might take.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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