Plant blamed for pollution near Goshen high school

Plant blamed for pollution near Goshen high school

Source: South Bend Tribune (IN), June 4, 2014
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

A group of residents and landlords who own property in a neighborhood near Goshen High School have accused a nearby plant of polluting the neighborhood, leaving a dangerous plume of carcinogens, under homes, businesses and the school, that contaminated air and drinking water for decades.

Five plaintiffs on Friday filed a lawsuit against Johnson Controls Inc. and TOCON Holdings LLC under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, accusing the companies of knowingly polluting the air and groundwater in the Goshen neighborhood.

The lawsuit lists state citations and warnings going back years that it says failed to stop the pollution.

Neighborhood residents Lori and Stephen VanDiepenbos and landlords Ronald and Sonya Schmucker and Richard L. Stewart allege in the complaint that Johnson Controls polluted an area that extends more than 5,400 feet into the neighborhood that includes Goshen High School.

The suit asks the companies to clean up the site and pay penalties for the damage.

It says the contamination primarily consists of a plume of Trichloroethylene, or TCE, a carcinogen that endangers human health and the environment in the area.

A major economic force in Goshen before it closed, the Johnson Controls plant manufactured parts of thermostats and building control systems at the site from 1937 to 2007, when it sold the site to TOCON.

The suit alleges TOCON did nothing to clean the pollution at the site upon taking over and has since mismanaged hazardous waste there.

A spokeswoman for Johnson Controls, headquartered in Milwaukee, said the company does not comment on pending litigation. Officials for TOCON could not be located.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not return calls with requests for comment.

The lawsuit says Johnson Controls discovered the plume of carcinogens in 1992 and volunteered to clean it in 1996, but failed to do so, leaving TCE levels higher than the government allows in the area and under Goshen High School.

That lawsuit says Johnson Controls has a documented history with state and federal agencies that have attempted to regulate pollution at the site.

Johnson Controls discharged hazardous waste into Rock Run Creek from 1937 until 1965, when the state ordered it to stop dumping in the creek, the lawsuit alleges. The plant then began storing the waste in on-site drums.

But throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the plant racked up violations and warning letters from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for improperly storing or managing hazardous waste, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges this hazardous waste, including the plume of TCE, infiltrated private wells of some residents in the neighborhood in the 1990s.

To avoid government intervention, Johnson Controls submitted a plan in 1997 for a groundwater pump and treatment system to clean the TCE plume in the area, but the lawsuit says the plan was “futile.”

Though the neighborhood was placed on public water supplies in the 1990s, meaning it doesn’t draw from the contaminated groundwater anymore, the lawsuit claims the underground vapors from the waste still pose a health risk.

The lawsuit asks the court to enter an injunction ordering the companies to file a plan with the court to investigate and clean the site and fund the court costs of the litigation, the clean up and tests necessary for the evaluation of the land.

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