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Waste Management to cover medical costs in landfill incident

Published: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 10:47 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 11:55 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – Waste Management will pay more than $70,000 for the medical bills and other expenses stemming from the Jan. 14 incident where a foul odor from the company’s landfill sickened students and staff at Cortland Elementary School.

During their meeting Tuesday, the DeKalb-based District 428 school board unanimously approved an agreement that holds Waste Management responsible for some of the costs incurred during the Jan. 14 incident, in which 71 students and staff from Cortland Elementary received medical treatment after a strong, sour odor traveled from the landfill to the school after a contractor unearthed a pocket of decomposing garbage. Waste Management signed the agreement in late February.

The agreement specifies Waste Management will pay medical and ambulance charges that amount to $67,555 for the services rendered by KishHealth System to students and $1,980 to Reddy Medical Associates.

The agreement does not detail the remaining costs Waste Management expects to absorb, although it says the company will pay for emergency services at the rate of $125 an hour a vehicle and $35 an hour a firefighter.

Emergency personnel reported equipment on the scene included nine ambulances, three fire engines and one rescue squad, and they carried more than 30 emergency personnel. It took four hours to clear the scene.

If all the reported equipment and personnel were on the scene for four hours, the bill would be a little more than $10,000.

Waste Management also agreed to pay as much as $10,000 for expenses incurred by the school district, but those expenses have yet to be tallied.

Waste Management spokeswoman Lisa Disbrow said she could not comment on the agreement, but said the district and the company plan to issue a joint statement later with more specifics.

School board President Tracy Williams said a meeting is scheduled between the two parties Monday to discuss the remaining details, which will remedy the incident as well as ensure future incidents don’t occur. Once this is done, school officials will hold a town hall meeting to share the conclusions and protocol moving forward.

“The piece we have concluded is the reactionary piece with what transpired,” Williams said. “The piece yet to be concluded is more of a proactive portion to us so we can prevent something like this from happening in the future.” 

The agreement aligns with what Waste Management officials said after the incident. Dale Hoekstra, director of operations for the Illinois/Missouri Valley post collection operations for Waste Management told the DeKalb County Board the day after the incident that the company intended to pay medical bills.

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