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State attorney general files lawsuit against Waste Management

Landfill operator agrees to extra safety steps at Cortland site

Published: Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 11:42 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 11:58 a.m. CDT
(Shaw Media File Photo)
One of many gas recovery wells stands above the active landfill at Waste Management in Cortland, Ill., on April 5, 2010. The state attorney general has filed a lawsuit to prevent future accidents like the recent one that sent about 70 adults and children at Cortland Elementary School to the hospital with low level carbon monoxide exposure.

SYCAMORE – Waste Management agreed to take extra precautions at its Cortland area landfill after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit in DeKalb County Circuit Court, officials announced Friday.Under the initial agreement, Waste Management workers are prohibited from digging into solid waste at the Cortland area landfill if the wind is from a southerly direction in excess of 10 mph, or if other conditions would cause digging to impact air quality at Cortland Elementary School.

The court action came in response to the incident in which contractors digging in old, decomposed garbage released a foul odor that drifted into the school’s ventilation system about a mile away. About 70 people sought treatment at Kishwaukee Community Hospital for low-level exposure to carbon monoxide.

The initial agreement is a reflection of Waste Management’s commitment to prevent a recurrence of the isolated incident, company spokeswoman Lisa Disbrow said in a prepared statement.

“Waste Management has been a part of this community since 1991 and, outside of this incident, has an excellent environmental record,” Disbrow said in the statement. “We remain committed to ensuring safe practices at all times at all of our sites.”

Disbrow declined to answer specific compliance questions, adding that Waste Management officials are in the process of reviewing all the steps in the agreed order.

Under the agreement, Waste Management officials will have all workers and contractors wear monitors recording any levels of combustible gas, oxygen, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide, court records show. On Jan. 14, landfill workers were wearing air monitoring devices, which did not detect any dangerous substances but did not log any data, according to an inspection report from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Waste Management officials also have agreed to collect within 10 days two samples from the gas collection system at the landfill, including one from the wellhead nearest to the area where crews were digging Jan. 14.

Waste Management also agreed to notify IEPA officials at least 24 hours before digging in waste again to expand the gas collection system. Landfill officials have a week to install a weather station that can monitor and record temperature, wind speed and direction and barometric pressure.

If Waste Management fails to meet any requirements in the agreed order, landfill officials have agreed to pay $300 a day for each violation.

The agreed order is just the first step for the lawsuit filed Thursday, however.

The lawsuit alleges several violations of environmental laws stemming from the incident, including conduct that caused substantial endangerment to public health and welfare, air pollution, violations of waste disposal regulations, and violations of the landfill permit. In each count, Madigan’s office seeks the statutory maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation and $10,000 for each day each violation continues.

DeKalb County Judge William Brady set the matter for a status hearing March 25.

In addition, Waste Management officials will stand by their offer to reimburse families for medical costs incurred as a result of the incident, Disbrow said. She said company officials are finalizing the protocol for that reimbursement with school district leaders.

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