A $33 million settlement with 48 companies over illegal dumping in Massachusetts and New Hampshire should "slam dunk" those who don't follow regulations in disposing toxic waste, an environmental official says.

The settlement was part of a civil complaint filed Wednesday by the Environmental Protection Agency in U.S. District Court seeking damages from 25 other companies that were allegedly involved in the illegal dumping and did not cooperate with federal officials."We're sending a message that says if you illegally dispose of illegal waste, you're going to get found, you're going to get caught and you'll have to pay for it," said Daniel S. Greenbaum, commissioner of Massachusetts' Department of Environmental Quality Engineering.

Part of the agreement, the culmination of a nine-year joint state and federal investigation, includes the largest cost recovery ever achieved under the U.S. Superfund law.

"This should slam dunk them (illegal dumpers) to the fullest extent of the law," said Michael Deland, the EPA's regional administrator. "We're saying we can't tolerate this anymore."

The $33.1 million settlement is described technically as a "proposal" because federal law requires a 30-day public comment period though the parties involved have already agreed to the conditions.

The settlement involves major companies who were customers of Cannons Engineering Corp. hazardous waste sites in Bridgewater and Plymouth, Mass., and in Nashua and Londonderry, N.H.

Among the companies were Globe Newspaper Co., Polaroid Corp., Monsanto Co., Atlantic Richfield Co., General Electric and Clean Harbors of Braintree and Natick.

The settlement calls for the recovery of $17 million in cleanup costs spent by the government at the sites, the largest recovery amount in Superfund history. The settling parties also agreed to clean up three of the four sites, work estimated to cost $16.1 million. The cleanup is already under way at the fourth site.

In Washington, D.C., Assistant Attorney General Roger J. Marzulla of the Justice Department's Land and Natural Resources Division said the "four sites involved some of the most urgent hazardous waste problems in New England and the government took decisive action."

Cannons, which has gone out of business, is one of the companies that has refused to settle with federal officials and is named in the complaint.