PHOENIX (AP) -- The federal government has fined three Phoenix area firms $500,000 for two recent incidents in which an industrial solvent suspected of causing cancer was released into the drinking water supply.
In October and January, the chemical trichloroethylene was found in water in amounts exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency's maximum limits. The chemical releases occurred when purifying processes at a water-treatment plant broke down.
The three companies hit with the fine are Motorola Inc., Siemens Corp. and SmithKline Beecham Corp.
The three were identified as the source of decades-old TCE contamination under North Indian Bend Wash. They built the plant as part of a federally mandated Superfund cleanup. The plant is now run by Arizona American Water Co.
Federal officials said the three failed to properly treat the groundwater for TCE at the site and failed to alert proper authorities about the release despite being under an agreement to do both.
''The fine sends a huge message that firms identified as polluters hold the ultimate responsibility for cleanup,'' said Keith Takata, director of the EPA's regional Superfund division, which includes Arizona.
''It is the maximum that we could have gotten.''
Motorola and the other companies do not admit liability for the allegations contained in the EPA's complaint.
In a statement, Motorola and the participating companies said they promptly alerted the EPA within 48 hours of learning of the October 2007 incident and notified the EPA ''on the same day we learned of the January 2008 incident.''
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality fined Arizona American $69,000 in connection with the two incidents. Arizona American spokesman Todd Walker declined to comment on the $500,000 penalty levied against Motorola and the others.
The water company continues to work with them and regulators on improving the plant by adding more safety measures including taking daily water samples and installing new control panels and alarms, Walker said.