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Lawsuit seeks action against PMC Specialties for regional

Lawsuit seeks action against PMC Specialties for regional

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

its act.

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

said.

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.

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