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Great Lakes Article:


Fine for asbestos maker called 'sellout' by environmentalists
By Dave McKinney
Chicago Sun Times
Published December 13th, 2004

 

SPRINGFIELD -- A Lake County environmental group believes a former producer of asbestos products in Waukegan should face $84 million in state pollution fines rather than the "disgracefully low" $145,000 fine being sought by Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

"The public -- and the judiciary -- should not tolerate this sellout of the public interest," said Paul Kakuris, president of the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society, which is seeking far stiffer pollution penalties for Johns Manville Corp.

Under former Attorney General Jim Ryan, the state sued Johns Manville in 2001 for illegal pollution discharges from its shuttered Waukegan plant, which is a federal Superfund site where 1 million tons of asbestos are capped.

In August 2003, Madigan amended that complaint by tacking on more than a dozen additional violations, all relating to discharges of cancer-causing asbestos and other contaminants from a pipe that flows into Lake Michigan from chemically tainted lagoons at the Johns Manville site.

This fall, the company and the attorney general's office negotiated the fine to resolve the lawsuit. A Lake County judge sought Dunesland's input on the deal. The group's call for an $84 million fine, contained in recently filed court documents, was based on the maximum possible fines per violation allowed under state law -- a figure Madigan's office contends is grossly too high.

'Inappropriate penalty'

"We think it is an appropriate penalty," said Matthew Dunn, a top environmental attorney in Madigan's office.

Dunesland has repeatedly bashed state officials for failing to hold Johns Manville accountable for asbestos debris that routinely washes ashore at Illinois Beach State Park and that has turned up in an ecologically sensitive nature preserve at the park and at a nearby, state-leased fishing area that has been closed.

The group also has pressed the state to slap the company for allowing its lagoons to overflow into the nature preserve. Despite one of its own field staffers documenting the phenomenon, the state Environmental Protection Agency has long held that no such overflow occurs.

Dunn said the violations cited in the state lawsuit -- and the $145,000 fine being proposed -- have nothing to do with asbestos on the beaches or at the state park because it cannot be proven Johns Manville is the source of that material.

Johns Manville spokesman Paul Gennaro declined comment on the proposed $145,000 fine, but he contended Dunesland's criticisms were proven to be baseless in a federal courtroom last week.

Dunesland suffered a legal setback when U.S. District Judge George Lindberg rejected its efforts to toughen a new federal cleanup order being imposed on Johns Manville. The judge ruled the group waited too long to raise its safety concerns and that many of those concerns already were being addressed under the cleanup order.

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