ELKHART, IN – Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has filed a lawsuit against an Elkhart County recycler with a history of environmental violations, worker-safety violations and public complaints.
The suit asks the court to require the company to cease its open dumping of wood waste and to remove waste materials and debris. Zoeller seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions and civil penalties against VIM Recycling Inc. after an inspection last week found multiple violations at the company’s wood-recycling operation at 29861 Old U.S. Highway 33 in Elkhart, Ind.
The complaint filed in Elkhart County Superior Court today alleges VIM Recycling has continued to haul in and deposit “B-grade” solid waste – scraps and pieces of treated wood from mobile-home manufacturing waste – onto the site in violation of the state’s laws against open dumping, polluting or creating fire hazards. The suit alleges VIM Recycling engaged in a pattern of noncompliance with directives of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). VIM’s actions could damage the public health and environment, the suit alleges.
Given the history of environmental and other violations by VIM Recycling, the recent illegal dumping was the last straw, the attorney general said. “This company has been given multiple opportunities by the state of Indiana,” Zoeller said. “They’ve just run out of second chances.”
A history of violations
Among the problems at the site:
* Residents in the vicinity long have complained about the stench, smoke and wood dust emanating from the VIM facility.
* An explosion and massive fire at VIM Recycling that killed one worker and injured another in June 2007 fueled concerns about unsafe working conditions that were magnified when a second worker was killed in May 2009 in a separate accident.
* In 2007, before the fire, VIM was required by an agreed order with IDEM to remove all the “C-grade” waste – weathered, rotting wood scraps – from the site. After the fire, the company missed the deadline for removal, and in October 2008 IDEM filed suit to enforce the agreed order. A citizens’ group of nearby residents then intervened to join that case.
* In June, the EPA cited VIM Recycling for violations of the Clean Air Act when smoke – from the piles of wood still smoldering from the fire two years earlier – continued to pollute the neighborhood air. Under an agreement with EPA the company now is required by year’s end to haul away the large pieces of combustible “C-grade” waste.
* The Indiana State Fire Marshal has filed suit against VIM Recycling due to fire-safety violations involving the height and stability of wood piles and space between them that constituted a fire hazard.
* VIM illegally and without the necessary permits opened a second recycling site, in Warsaw, IN, for grinding chemically-treated B-grade wood waste. IDEM sought and obtained a preliminary injunction when it was discovered.
* An EPA agreement required VIM to remove larger pieces of C-grade wood waste after smaller pieces had been screened out. Although the EPA-required cleanup of the C-grade waste is nearing completion, a large volume of smaller C-grade pieces remain on the site.
* Additionally, VIM Recycling has continued to deliver B-grade wood waste from elsewhere and deposit it on the site, despite warnings from IDEM and EPA to company owner Kenneth Will that further dumping is prohibited.
'Contempt' for environmental laws
“This company has demonstrated its contempt for state and federal environmental laws,” Zoeller said.
In the lawsuit, the attorney general asks the Court for injunctions to order VIM Recycling to cease and desist from dumping contaminants, to remove solid wastes and dispose of them properly, to comply with all federal, state and local laws, and to document that B-grade wood wastes are removed to an appropriate processing facility. The removal of the remaining C-grade waste is an issue in a separate case pending in Elkhart County Circuit Court.
Under state environmental laws, the Court could impose civil penalties against VIM Recycling of up to $25,000 per day per violation. Zoeller noted that with multiple complaints brought on behalf of different agencies by the attorney general against VIM, it was appropriate that the Attorney General’s Office intervene to try to combat the problems comprehensively.
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