The gas company Southern Union will pay an undisclosed amount of money to 90 Pawtucket residents in a confidential settlement of a federal lawsuit stemming from a 2004 mercury spill, the residents’ lawyer said
Residents sued in U.S. District Court, Providence, after some local youths in 2004 broke into a building at 91 Tidewater St. that was owned by Southern Union, the Texas-based utility. The youths found liquid mercury being
illegally stored in a locked cabinet in a vacant building; they smashed jars of the substance and dumped a container of it at the nearby Lawn Terrace Apartments. The ensuing cleanup cost the company $6.6 million.
Clean Harbor Environmental Services, an environmental firm hired by Southern Union to clean up the mercury spill, is also contributing to the settlement.
In October 2008, Southern Union was convicted by a federal jury on one count of illegally storing liquid mercury without a permit but was found not guilty on two other counts. Prosecutors had accused the company of failing to
report the mercury release on its property.
Mercury is a toxic substance that can affect the central nervous system.
According to court records, sentencing, which was slated for earlier this year, has not happened. Southern Union this year filed a motion seeking a new trial. U.S. District Judge William E. Smith ruled July 9 that the maximum
fine that can be imposed in the criminal case is $38.1 million (at the maximum rate of $50,000 a day).
Southern Union sold its Rhode Island holdings — New England Gas Company — to National Grid in 2006. National Grid is not a defendant.