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E-M:/ Verdict and Award in Clark Blue Island Refinery Case



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.

 

Oil 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 health problems.

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 January 2001.

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," Ballantyne said.

She can remember the chemical smells that wafted through the neighborhood and explosions that spewed white powdery ash over her plants and grass, killing them.

"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 it."

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 paint."

Silke said the explosions broke windows in her house and caused cracks in her foundation.

"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 the ground.

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.

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Tribune environmental reporter Michael Hawthorne contributed to this report.



Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune


 

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Thomas K. Rohrer, Director

Environmental Studies Program

318 Brooks Hall

Central Michigan University

Mt. Pleasant  MI  48859

U. S. A.

 

Ph. (989) 774-4409

email = tom.rohrer@cmich.edu

 

CMU Environmental Studies Program information is available at:

 

http://www.cst.cmich.edu/units/env/

 

 

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