Environmentalists say state letting asbestos maker
By Dave McKinney
SPRINGFIELD -- A Lake County environmental group wants
a judge to delay a looming settlement of a state lawsuit
against Johns Manville Corp., saying the deal's possible
terms could be a ''sweetheart deal'' for the former asbestos
The Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society believes
the company faces only slap-on-the-wrist fines of no more
than $750,000 when it should be subjected to state penalties
reaching $5 million for polluting Lake Michigan and Illinois
Beach State Park with asbestos.
''Our intent is to get a voice in this, and make sure
that they don't give away the store,'' Dunesland President
Paul Kakuris said, referring to state environmental officials
and the attorney general's office, which are negotiating
with Johns Manville.
''They're going to charge them pennies on the dollar
compared to what the fines should be,'' Kakuris said.
The group wants Lake County Judge David M. Hall to press
for the maximum possible penalty against Johns Manville.
It further asks him to delay a settlement until Dunesland
can perform more thorough testing of a polluted lagoon
system on the Johns Manville site in Waukegan and in an
adjacent nature preserve, where the group found asbestos
debris last year.
That find 11 months ago has not resulted in any action
against Johns Manville by the Illinois Environmental Protection
Agency. Nor has it been made part of the state suit against
the company -- a pattern by the state, Dunesland maintains,
of overlooking the company's poor track record.
The lawsuit against Johns Manville was originally filed
in 2001 by former Attorney General Jim Ryan and has been
amended, including last summer when Attorney General Lisa
Madigan cited Johns Manville for 15 more environmental
violations tied to its operations, which ceased in the
Matthew Dunn, a lawyer who oversees asbestos litigation
under Madigan, would not divulge how close the state and
Johns Manville may be to an agreement nor confirm how
much in fines the state would seek, saying only it would
not be in the ''millions of dollars.''
''We generally don't discuss or negotiate our penalties
in the press,'' Dunn said. ''In this matter, we've pursued
the violations we believe are appropriate and sustainable.
We've pursued for a, b and c, but this group also wants
d and f.''
Bruce Ray, associate general counsel for Johns Manville,
dismissed Dunesland's claims.
''Mr. Kakuris has been on record with these same allegations
for over two years,'' Ray said. ''I don't think this is
necessary. We've had the state and federal governments
looking over our shoulders the whole way.''
Dunesland, which expects a Thursday hearing in Waukegan
on its motions, was instrumental in last summer's shutdown
of a state-leased fishing pier neighboring Johns Manville
that was littered with asbestos debris. The pier remains
The group last year released a study purporting health-threatening
asbestos contamination in that area and along the expansive
state park shoreline, which Dunesland said should be closed.
The state ignored that recommendation.