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A frightening map of where Kerr-McGee polluted

Associated Press - FILE - In this May 7, 1953, file photo, Navajo miners work at the Kerr McGee uranium mine at Cove, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. Kerr-McGee left abandoned uranium mine sites, including contaminated waste rock piles, in the Lukachukai mountains of Arizona and in the Ambrosia Lake area of New Mexico. In this May 1953 file photo, Navajo miners work at the Kerr-McGee uranium mine at Cove, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation. Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum, left abandoned uranium mine sites, including contaminated waste rock piles, in the Lukachukai mountains of Arizona and in the Ambrosia Lake area of New Mexico. (AP)

On Thursday, the Justice Department announced the biggest environmental settlement in history with Anadarko Petroleum, reaching a $5.15 billion deal to clean up dozens of sites across the United States and compensate more than 7,000 people living with the effects of the contamination.

The accord arose out of a lawsuit in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court concerning Tronox, a paint materials manufacturer and unit of the company Kerr-McGee, an Anadarko subsidiary. Anadarko bought Kerr-McGee after it had spun off Tronox, but plaintiffs and Justice Dept. officials charged this was merely an attempt to avoid taking financial responsibility for the range of U.S. chemical, energy and manufacturing businesses Kerr-McGee operated over the course of 85 years.

So how many places were touched by Kerr-McGee's toxic legacy of uranium mining, wood treatment, rocket-fuel processing and other activities? Take a look at this map:


 

Most Americans may not have heard of Kerr-McGee, though they are probably familiar with the movie "Silkwood," which depicts the case of one of the company's employees, Karen Silkwood, who alleged that she had been exposed to deadly levels of radiation while working at one of its uranium-processing facilities.

Anadarko declined to comment specifically on Kerr-McGee's operating practices on Thursday, instead hailing the settlement as a way of resolving a long-running legal battle.

"Investor focus can now return to the tremendous value embedded in Anadarko's asset base," president and CEO Al Walker said in a statement. "We are grateful to our stakeholders who have maintained their confidence and trust in our people and our assets."

Now  Anadarko's shareholders have financial certainty about what sort of a hit the company will take, and billions of dollars will go into restoring these polluted areas in big cities, small towns and remote rural regions. Some areas are beyond repair, however: for example, Kerr-McGee operated a wood-treatment facility in Manville, N.J., that used coal tar creosote from 1910 until the mid-1950s; now the state of New Jersey will get $4.5 million to compensate it for the fact that the area’s groundwater resources cannot be brought up to meet federal standards.

 

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

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