Attorney General James and DEC Commissioner Seggos Secure $4 Million to Resolve Hazardous Waste, Oil Spill Contamination in Tonawanda

American Axle & Manufacturing to Reimburse Costs of Cleanup at former Tonawanda Forge Site

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced a $4 million agreement that resolves years of hazardous waste disposal and oil spill contamination at the former Tonawanda Forge site in Tonawanda, New York. The agreement stipulates that American Axle & Manufacturing will compensate the state of New York for costs associated with the state’s cleanup of contamination at the site.   

“Too many of New York’s communities still struggle with pollution resulting from a legacy of environmental abuse, neglect, and injustice,” said Attorney General James. “Through our action here, we are recouping $4 million, which will be essential to eliminating a long-standing site of contamination in the greater Buffalo community. My office is committed to holding polluters accountable and protecting the health and safety of all New Yorkers, including our environment.” 

“This agreement ensures the company responsible for contaminating the Tonawanda Forge site will pay their share of the cleanup costs,” said DEC Commissioner Seggos. “I thank Governor Cuomo for his sustained commitment to ensuring the clean-up of former industrial sites like this one, and the Attorney General, her team, and my staff who worked to recoup New York state's costs to remediate the former Tonawanda Forge site. Working together, we are sending a strong message to polluters that they will be held to account for the damage they cause to the environment and our communities.”

Over the years, a number of soil, sediment, groundwater, and surface water sampling investigations of the Tonawanda Forge site have found the presence of asbestos, petroleum, and other hazardous substances — including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, heavy metals (such as lead and arsenic), volatile organic compounds, and semi-volatile organic compounds. Some of this contamination was found at levels exceeding state cleanup standards designed to protect public health and the environment. 

General Motors (GM) began manufacturing axles, tie-rods, and other automobile parts at the approximately 33-acre Tonawanda Forge site in the 1950s. In 1994, GM sold the site to American Axle, which operated the site until 2008. American Axle used the same production processes as GM, producing similar parts and generating similar by-products. Logs show that — at least since the early 1990s and into the mid-2000s — the processes GM and American Axle utilized involved use of the hazardous substances found through sampling investigations at the site. An investigation conducted by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) uncovered evidence that both GM and American Axle had mishandled hazardous wastes and allowed spilled chemicals to leak into the ground through cracks in concrete floors.

In 2008, American Axle sold the Tonawanda Forge site to Lewis Brothers, a scrapper that partially dismantled the site. American Axle also removed some of its equipment after 2008, as part of an agreement with Lewis Brothers. During the removal of the equipment at the site, Lewis Brothers caused petroleum contamination and a PCB oil spill.

Earlier this month, OAG filed an action in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York against American Axle under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The action sought recovery of past and future costs associated with hazardous waste cleanup of the former Tonawanda Forge site. In 2017, OAG filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court, Albany County against American Axle and Lewis Brothers seeking recovery of costs incurred by the state in cleaning up and removing the petroleum contamination at the site.

Today’s agreement, and the federal district court consent decree with American Axle address the company’s liability under CERCLA for the hazardous waste cleanup and damages to natural resources at the former Tonawanda Forge site. The company has agreed to pay the state $3.6 million to resolve this matter, which will be directed to DEC’s Hazardous Waste Remedial fund to support the cleanup of this and other hazardous waste sites in the state. The agreement also references the settlement of the oil spill cost recovery action taken against American Axle for $425,000 — funds that will be deposited in the state’s Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation (Oil Spill) Fund. The OAG and American Axle expect to discontinue the lawsuit over the oil spill upon OAG’s receipt of this payment. Additionally, American Axle has agreed to pay $25,000 for damages to natural resources, which will be deposited in DEC’s Natural Resources Damages fund.

“Today’s announcement reaffirms the fact that polluters will be held accountable for their actions and corporations must always take responsibility for any environmental damage that they cause in our communities,” said State Senator Sean Ryan. “I thank Attorney General Letitia James and the Department of Environmental Conservation for securing this compensation to remedy the long-standing hazardous waste contamination at the former Tonawanda Forge site. The funding from this agreement will be used to clean up the Tonawanda Forge site and other contaminated sites, to protect the health and safety of the people of Western New York, and our entire state. This funding will be instrumental in combating the long-term impact of pollution and rehabilitating the site so that it will no longer be a blight on the Town of Tonawanda.”

“Western New York has long been the victim of legacy pollution, and all too often, cleanup largely becomes the financial burden of the taxpayers — the same residents who suffer the effects of said pollution. Remediation of sites like the former Tonawanda Forge is costly but necessary work, not only for the health and well-being of the public but for the future economic development of our region,” said State Assemblymember Bill Conrad. “I applaud Attorney General James and Commissioner Seggos for their successful effort to recoup $4 million from American Axle for the cleanup of a sprawling property in the Town of Tonawanda's main industrial zone. Thanks to this consent decree, liability for its contamination has been assigned appropriately, as the responsibility of a primary polluter.”

The matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Nicholas C. Buttino and Jamie Woods, supervised by Section Chief Morgan Costello and Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic — all of the Environmental Protection Bureau; and Deputy Bureau Chief Jennifer M. Dentinger in the Oil Spill Unit, supervised by Bureau Chief Drew A. Lochte — both of the Civil Recoveries Bureau; as well as Deputy Attorney General John V. Cremo. The Environmental Protection Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux. The Civil Recoveries Bureau is part of the Division for State Counsel, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Orelia E. Merchant. Both the Division for Social Justice and the Division for State Counsel are overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy. For DEC, the matter was handled by Assistant Regional Attorney Terri Mucha, supervised by Andrew Guglielmi, Remediation Bureau Chief, with DEC's Office of General Counsel.