A former New Bedford manufacturing company has agreed to pay more than $366 million — the largest cash settlement in the history of the federal Superfund program — to clean up the PCB-laden New Bedford Harbor within seven years.
The South Carolina-based AVX Corp., whose predecessor, Aerovox Corp., operated an electrical capacitor plant on the harbor for more than three decades until the 1970s, agreed to the cash settlement to accelerate dredging of the harbor. PCBs are considered a probable human carcinogen.
“This settlement is a victory for the people of the Commonwealth,’’ said Governor Deval Patrick. “These funds will allow us to expedite the ongoing clean-up efforts at the Harbor Site in order to protect the environment and the public health of our residents.’’
New Bedford Harbor is New England’s oldest and largest Superfund site and was listed as one of the nation’s filthiest properties in 1983. The area is so polluted people are warned not to eat seafood from the 18,000-acre harbor and nearby Acushnet River estuary.
Cleanup costs for the harbor have already hit $450 million but federal regulators recently estimated that at the current rate of spending, around $15 million a year, it would take 40 years and $1 billion to finish the cleanup. The announcement today means it will be done in five to seven years.
The money will be split between the US Environmental Protection Agency and the state to dredge the soil and dispose of it off-site.
“Thanks to this record settlement, those who live and work along the harbor will see a significant reduction in risk to humans and the environment, and people will not have to wait decades to begin to enjoy the harbor’s natural resources,’’ said Kenneth Kimmell, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. “As the natural resources return to vitality, so will tourism, recreation and redevelopment for harbor-side communities.’’