CHICAGO - Standing outside the gates of PMC Specialties Group on the
Southeast Side Thursday, a group of local residents and environmental activists
announced they have filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing the company to clean up
The lawsuit charges the company with illegally discharging toxic chemicals
into the Chicago sewer system, where it can pose a threat to human health and
quality of life along the Little Calumet River.
"PMC is behaving like a toxic slumlord," said Diane Brown, executive
director of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group. Local residents and
the Chicago-based Citizens for a Better Environment joined her organization in
filing the suit.
Officials at PMC had no comment on the group's allegations or lawsuit.
Andy Buchsbaum, a lawyer from the National Environmental Law Center in
Michigan, walked through the gates at PMC as they opened for a truck Thursday
afternoon and gave the court papers to a security guard.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, asks the court to force PMC to
stop illegal discharges and to impose penalties of up to $25,000 for each day
the company was in violation.
The Chicago lawsuit is part of a nationwide effort to crack down on PMC
Corp., Buchsbaum said, adding that citizens also have discovered illegal toxic
discharges at PMC subsidiaries in Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey and California.
In each case, the company bought property for its plants on land already
highly contaminated with toxins and then tried to avoid cleanup, Buchsbaum
said. In Chicago, the company bought land at 115th Street and the Calumet
Expressway from Sherwin Williams.
The company's Southeast Side plant manufactures organic chemicals used in
producing dyes and pigments.
According to the 1990 Toxic Release Inventory, the plant released 4.8
million pounds of toxic chemicals into the land, air and water, making it the
second largest polluter in the city, said Andrew Comai, toxic policy analyst
for Citizens for a Better Environment.
About 3.8 million pounds of that figure went into the sewer system, Comai
Brown said her organization researched the plant's records and found 112
violations of the federal Clean Water Act in the past two years. The violations
were for exceeding legal limits by as much as 5,000 percent, Buchsbaum said.
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District has recorded even more
violations, Buchsbaum said.
Roberta Harper, spokeswoman for the district, said she could not confirm the
number of violations recorded but added that the sewer district holds regular
meetings with the company to discuss discharge violations.
Those discussions could lead to a lawsuit by the district if improvements
are not made, Harper said.
The environmental groups have charged that PMC's discharges threaten the
quality of the Lake Calumet River because wastewater from the plant is sent for
treatment at the Calumet wastewater reclamation plant. Water from that plant is
discharged into the river.
The lawsuit contends the plant's treatment process removes some, but not
all, of the pollutants contained in the wastewater. Also, the plant
occasionally discharges untreated water in the river during heavy rains,
according to the suit.
"The Calumet River is spotted with floating chemicals, putrid odors, thick
smelly polluted soil along the banks, floating and bloated fish carcasses, and
unhappy boaters and fishermen," said Jeanne Michalski, president of Calumet
Citizens for Environmental Protections.
Aside from the treatment plant's discharges, toxic contamination in the
sewer system can affect local residents in other ways, Buchsbaum said. Many of
the toxins evaporate easily, causing harmful vapors that escape into the air
through sanitary vents, he said.
Hazel Johnson, president of People for Community Recovery, said one of those
vents is near her home in the Altgeld Gardens housing project. "The smell makes
everyone sick," she said. "It gives you headaches and makes you nauseous."
Buchsbaum said the Clean Water Act allows for citizens' lawsuits to
encourage enforcement actions against violators. He added that he hopes the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will coordinate national efforts against
PMC Corp. the parent company.