Attached article from the Chicago Tribune FYI…….This
refinery is now owned by Valero Energy, the same company that bought the Total
Petroleum Refineries in Alma and Mount Pleasant.
firm loses suit over pollution
Cook County jury awards $120 million to Blue Island residents
By Stanley Ziemba and Tonya Maxwell
Tribune staff reporter
Published November 22, 2005, 9:45 PM CST
A Cook County jury has awarded $120.1 million to Blue Island residents and
former high school students on whose behalf a lawsuit was filed 10 years ago
against the Clark Oil refinery, claiming its pollutants created a nuisance and
The verdict, handed down Monday, awards compensatory and punitive damages to
some 6,000 residents who lived near the refinery from 1993 until it closed in
The jury also awarded $100,000 to about 1,200 former students and staff from
nearby Eisenhower High School affected by pollutants discharged from the plant
in 1994. The discharge caused four dozen students to go to the hospital
complaining of dizziness and breathing discomfort.
"I'm ecstatic this is finally happening," said Joan Silke, a
plaintiff in the suit and chairwoman of the Good Neighbor Committee, a
grass-roots group that fought the refinery for years.
"They're finally going to pay for some of the things they did to this
community and to its children," said Silke, who lived near the plant for
more than a decade.
Mary Ann Pohl, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, said the verdict was one of the
largest involving a nuisance lawsuit against a refinery and called it a victory
for all small communities across the country whose residents are "the
victims of oil refineries that pollute."
An attorney for the owners of the former Clark refinery confirmed the verdict
but said there would be no immediate comment.
Clark Refining and Marketing, which owned the 170-acre plant at 131st Street and Kedzie Avenue in Worth Township near Blue Island when the suit was filed in
1995, has since been renamed Premcor. Connecticut-based Premcor Inc. was
acquired this year by Texas-based Valero Energy Corp., which presumably would
be responsible for Premcor's liabilities, Pohl said.
She said she had not heard from Premcor's attorneys on whether the verdict
would be appealed and that it would be up to the courts to decide how the award
is distributed. Since there are approximately 6,000 households splitting $120
million, an average of about $20,000--minus attorney fees and other costs to be
determined by the court--could be handed out, she said.
Loraine Ballantyne, 80, who has lived on nearby California Avenue for 40 years,
said she'll believe it when she sees a check.
"It's too long. They just waited too long," Ballantyne said. The
victory for her, she said, was when Premcor officials announced that the
refinery, which employed 297 workers, was closing because it was obsolete and
the company could no longer afford to meet pollution safety regulations.
"Every time I drive by there, I'm still happy that it's gone,"
She can remember the chemical smells that wafted through the neighborhood and
explosions that spewed white powdery ash over her plants and grass, killing
"They knew it was bad," said Ignacio Lopez, 73, who has lived on Francisco Street since 1969. He added that longtime residents should get at least "a
little cash" if for no other reason than they had to evacuate the area
when residue poured from the plant.
"We suffered here quite a few years," he said.
Mark Hoppe, 37, another Francisco Street resident, wasn't sure how much money
he might get. He moved into the neighborhood in 1998.
"About two years later, [Clark] ruined a beautiful T-bone steak,"
Hoppe said of the ash that fell like a blanket of dandruff over his grill.
"My mouth was watering for that steak and potatoes, and it ruined
Other nearby residents said they hoped to be reimbursed for damage to their
homes that they said was caused by explosions and dust from the refinery.
Elaine Monroe, 54, who lives on Wahl Street, said when the refinery was
operating, she would have to wash down the interior walls in her house twice a
year "to remove the brownish, nicotine-like film that settled on the
Silke said the explosions broke windows in her house and caused cracks in her
"It was one aggravation after another," she said.
Monday's verdict stemmed from the suit filed initially by attorneys for
Priscilla Rosolowski, an Eisenhower student, and more than two dozen other
students and nearby residents. They claimed the release in October 1994 of
nearly 10 tons of airborne grit after a power failure at the refinery
temporarily affected their health.
The lawsuit evolved into a class-action suit involving three classes of
plaintiffs: the Eisenhower students and faculty; parents of students affected
by the 1994 incident; and the 6,000 households in an area between Kedzie and
Hoyne Avenues from 119th to 135th Street. The latter contended the plant
interfered with their rights to use and enjoy their property from October 1993
until it closed.
In the case of the parents, who were suing to recover costs they claimed to
have incurred for their children's medical care, the jury ruled in favor of
Premcor, Pohl said. Premcor argued it had adequately reimbursed the parents at
the time of the incident.
The refinery had a long history of environmental troubles. Illinois Atty. Gen.
Lisa Madigan sued Premcor last year seeking to force it to clean up soil and
groundwater contaminants remaining on the site. That suit listed 64 incidents
between 1992 and 2001 in which the refinery leaked gasoline, oil or dye into
Except for a 200-foot smokestack that is slated for demolition, the refinery
site stands largely empty. Blue Island officials say when the soil is cleaned,
they hope to annex the land and have it redeveloped for industrial use.
Tribune environmental reporter Michael
Hawthorne contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune
Thomas K. Rohrer, Director
318 Brooks Hall
Central Michigan University
U. S. A.
Ph. (989) 774-4409
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