Fine for asbestos maker called 'sellout'
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
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.
"We think it is an appropriate penalty," said
Matthew Dunn, a top environmental attorney in Madigan's
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
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
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.