EPA complaint filed against tire-recycling business after fire
HOOPESTON — The tire-recycling business that burned last week faces possible fines of more than $100,000 for alleged air and water pollution-related violations detailed in an injunction filed Monday by the Illinois attorney general's office.
The complaint was requested by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and filed in Vermilion County Circuit Court against J&R Used Tire Service Inc., 103 Maple St., Hoopeston, which is owned by Rodney and Janie Rogers of Potomac.
It asks the court to stop the business from accepting any more tires or tire material or operating its facility on Maple Street until it develops, implements and completes a site remediation plan that's approved by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and is designed to prevent and remediate any hazards to human health and the environment and also designed to prohibit the business from committing future violations.
Rogers did not answer phone calls from The News-Gazette seeking comment Tuesday on the attorney general's complaint. But in an interview with The News-Gazette on June 19, the day the fire started, Rodney Rogers apologized to the Hoopeston community for the fire and said that he would do everything he could to make things right.
According to the Illinois fire marshal's office, static electricity from maintenance being done on a processing machine early the morning of June 19 ignited dust and tire processing fluff, causing the fire that quickly spread to used tires near that equipment and then to the thousands of tires and tire-related material in the almost 400,000-square-foot facility that processed the material into a variety of other products, like mulch.
It grew to a large blaze with a massive, heavy, black smoke plume and led to the evacuation of hundreds of nearby residences in Hoopeston, the closure of Illinois 9 for three days, the closure of the CSX railroad line for 24 hours, caused a fish kill in a nearby creek and required more than 100 volunteer and full-time firefighters from more than 20 fire departments in the area to work in shifts around the clock through Thursday morning, and a smaller contingent through Friday night.
The attorney general's complaint alleges one count of air pollution and one count of water pollution.
It states that the business had more than 50,000 tires on site in addition to several large piles of shredded tires and tire pieces, like sidewalls and treads. It also had a tank with 1,500 gallons of fuel and three diesel tanks with 500 gallons each for a total of 3,000 gallons of fuel on the property.
In connection with the air pollution, the complaint lists a variety of emissions that result from open tire fires, including carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, hydrogen chloride and others as well as metals like arsenic, cadmium, mercury and more.
And in regard to the water pollution, the complaint states that the water sprayed on the site mixed with contaminants creating contaminated runoff that accumulated in pools and flowed south of the site into several ponds and surface water bodies. It also stated that the runoff had a visible petroleum sheen and is believed to have contained sulfuric acid and other pollutants. The IEPA estimated that the fire required at least 3 million gallons of water, according to the complaint.
The court documents also contained an affidavit from Curt White, an IEPA field inspector from the Champaign regional office, stating that contaminated runoff from the fire scene, due to water mixing with various contaminants on the site, got into an unnamed tributary of the North Fork branch of the Vermilion River and killed more than 2,000 fish. First responders and city workers worked quickly the first day of the fire to build a dam to retain the contaminated runoff in a retention pond south of Hoopeston to stop it from continuing into that tributary.
The IEPA's investigation into the nature and extent of the pollution is ongoing, according to the complaint, and if the site is left unaddressed, it poses an imminent and significant threat to the environment and public health, and for those reasons, requires the court's intervention.
The complaint asks the court to find the business in violation, immediately prohibit the business from accepting additional material and operating commercially until the remediation plan is developed and completed and assess a civil penalty of not more than $50,000 on each of the two violations and an additional $10,000 penalty for each day the violation continues. It also asks the court to order the business to pay the attorney fees of the state and any costs of expert witnesses in addition to any other relief the court finds necessary.