US attorney files civil complaint against former Memphis dry-cleaning property owner for toxic solvent cleanup costs

The now-empty lot on Southern Avenue which once housed the former Custom Cleaners, along with...
The now-empty lot on Southern Avenue which once housed the former Custom Cleaners, along with other dry-cleaning businesses and an art supply store since 1966.(Action News 5)
Published: Aug. 7, 2023 at 3:19 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - On Monday, the United States announced the filing of a civil complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee against Memphis property owner Minor David Madison Jr. for the costs of cleaning hazardous chemicals on his former dry-cleaning properties that remained more than 20 years after they shut their doors.

Madison owns land tracts at 3517 and 3523 Southern Avenue in Memphis—properties that once housed successive dry-cleaning businesses over the years, including the former Custom Cleaners.

According to the complaint, Madison leased the property to several dry-cleaning operators beginning in 1966. Those operators are alleged to have disposed of solvents, such as perchloroethylene and trichloroethene, at the site while Madison owned the property.

In June 2013, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) received complaints about chemical vapor smells and abandoned barrels of chemicals at the property.

TDEC sampling detected high concentrations of hazardous substance vapors in the subsurface, migrating soil gasses that would pose a threat to neighboring properties, and a plume of contaminated groundwater threatening the aquifer that supplies drinking water to Memphis and other local municipalities.

“Clean air and safe drinking water are basic building blocks for a healthy and just Memphis,” United States Attorney Kevin Ritz said. “More than 20 years after the last dry cleaners on this property shuttered, residents are still living with toxic gasses in the soil and water above the level considered safe by federal standards. This is the first step in making sure those same residents don’t have to foot the bill for bringing their community back to a healthy standard.”

The lawsuit seeks recovery of all costs incurred by the Environmental Protection Agency under Section 107 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, as amended (“CERCLA”), 42 U.S.C. § 9607.

CERCLA, commonly known as Superfund, provides the United States with a way to recover the costs of responding to a release or threatened release of hazardous substances by imposing liability on property owners. In 2017, the EPA added Madison’s properties to the Superfund’s National Priorities List, a list of the most serious sites requiring response actions.

For more about the Former Custom Cleaners Superfund site, click here.

EPA has been performing response actions since 2016 and will continue to conduct response actions in the future to abate hazards posed by the site.

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