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Southwest Missouri News--Joplin

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by Carol Harris, Branson area, and Marti Attoun, Joplin area

After eight years of denial, FAG Bearings Corp., Joplin, has admitted responsibility for water contamination in the nearby villages of Saginaw and Silver Creek.

The company has agreed to pay full cleanup costs.

Representatives from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources , the Missouri Attorney General's Office and FAG met with residents Jan. 12 to discuss the cleanup of contamination caused by trichloroethylene (TCE).

Records show the plant used TCE as a degreaser in its ball-bearing manufacturing operation. The industrial solvent is classified as a probable cancer-causing chemical.

"FAG welcomes the opportunity to work cooperatively with the DNR to fully determine the scope of groundwater contamination in the bedrock aquifer at this location," said Steve Hale, a spokesman for FAG.

The first step will be cleanup at the plant property, said Steve Sturgess, site supervisor for the DNR. That cost may exceed $1 million, he said. A soil-vapor extraction system will be used.

FAG has agreed to sample 50 to 70 residential wells to determine if the groundwater contamination has spread.

The company will reimburse the state $558,000 for its past response calls and will pay DNR's future oversight costs, Sturgess said.

Problems first came to light in 1991, when the Missouri Department of Health discovered high levels of TCE in some wells in Silver Creek. The 550 residents financed their own connection to Missouri-American Water Co. and paid for a $605,000 water system.

In 1995, FAG agreed to pay for water systems for both villages, but the company denied responsibility for the contamination.

"No one has won anything but the lawyers," said Don Ward, a resident of Silver Creek. "I am glad to see the cooperation now, but if they would have done this a long time ago, there would have been a lot less grief for everyone, and that includes FAG."

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