State, County Sue Silicone Factory Following Explosion

Illinois and Lake County hope to force AB Specialty Silicones to secure its site in Waukegan and ensure all remaining chemicals are removed.

Emergency personnel and others clear the scene of an explosion at AB Specialty Silicones chemical plant, Saturday, May 4, 2019, in Waukegan, Ill.
Emergency personnel and others clear the scene of an explosion at AB Specialty Silicones chemical plant, Saturday, May 4, 2019, in Waukegan, Ill.
Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune via AP

Illinois and Lake County are suing the owner of a Chicago-area silicone factory that exploded last month, seeking to force the company to identify the nature and extent of chemical pollution in the area and limit the environmental impact of the deadly blast.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul said Friday that the lawsuit seeks an injunction to require AB Specialty Silicones factory to immediately secure the Waukegan site and ensure all remaining chemicals are removed, the Lake County News-Sun reported.

"This explosion was tragic, and my thoughts are with the families who lost loved ones as a result," said Raoul. "As the community continues to recover from the trauma of this event, I have filed this lawsuit to protect residents and the environment from any chemical contamination."

In the same statement, Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim noted his office intends to "work diligently with the Illinois Attorney General's Office, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to seek remediation of any environmental impacts as a result of the explosion."

The lawsuit alleges the May 3 explosion released an unknown amount of chemicals into the environment, causing air contamination. Four factory employees were killed in the blast.

In addition, chemicals and water used to fight the fire leaked into the storm sewers, which polluted a wetland and Osprey Lake about a mile away, according to the complaint.

AB Specialty officials said they are shocked and disappointed by the lawsuit and that the company has cooperated in the cleanup effort.

"(For) nearly a month we have worked in full partnership with all regulatory, state, local and federal agencies on our shared goals of securing the site, protecting the Waukegan community, and ensuring it is safe for our employees to return to work," the company's officials said in a statement.

Raoul's lawsuit is based on a recommendation from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and that agency is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to handle any immediate dangers to public health and the environment.

"Beyond the immediate devastation caused by this catastrophic explosion, our investigation has identified the release of chemicals impacting the environment and visible impacts to nearby wetlands and Osprey Lake," Illinois EPA Acting Director John J. Kim said in the statement, adding that the legal action is "an important step to ensure the full extent of contamination is identified and proper remediation is made."

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