Illinois Attorney General Sues Hilco Over Botched Smokestack Demolition

The plume of dust that coated six blocks of homes in Little Village after the botched demolition of the smokestack at the former Crawford Power Plant included mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other pollutants, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

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“The companies responsible for the demolition of the Crawford Power Generating Station’s smokestack failed to take steps to protect the community from air pollution and compromised air quality at a time when we are urging residents to remain in their communities to minimize the spread of a deadly respiratory disease,” Raoul said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic. “I am committed to holding the defendants accountable for the environmental damage done to the Little Village community and working to address any remaining contamination.”

The lawsuit names Hilco Redevelopment Partners and the firm’s general contractors, MCM Management Corp. and Controlled Demolition Inc., alleging they did not take “adequate steps to protect the community from the resulting cloud of particulate matter” by watering down the site before the demolition.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency had urged Raoul to take action against the firm for violating the Illinois Environmental Protection Act; Illinois Pollution Control Board regulations; and its permit governing the discharge of pollutants into stormwater.

Raoul’s lawsuit comes nearly a week after test results released by the city of Chicago found that the dust plume showed “no apparent health risk” to Little Village residents.

“The test results, which included analysis of particulate matter, dust composition, building debris and soil composition, show that there is no apparent health risk to the surrounding community,” according to a statement from the mayor’s office and the Chicago Department of Public Health.

However, the fact that particulate matter made up of dust, dirt, soot or smoke mixed with liquid droplets found in the air was released into the community endangered nearby residents, according to the lawsuit filed by Raoul.

“If inhaled, particulate matter can cause serious health problems, including aggravated asthma, decreased lung function and increased respiratory symptoms,” according to a statement from Raoul’s office. “Residents near the site reported experiencing respiratory distress and pain while breathing, in addition to heightened fear and anxiety after the smokestack fell.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot supports the lawsuit, which spokesperson Anel Ruiz said “marks another crucial step in holding Hilco Redevelopment Partners and other companies accountable for their actions on April 11.”

In addition, “a multi-departmental review of current city demolition processes is on-going with a goal of preventing anything like this from ever happening again,” Ruiz said.

Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd Ward) said he was pleased the attorney general had filed suit.

“My neighbors deserve to have justice restored,” Rodriguez said.

Raoul’s lawsuit seeks to require the companies to take corrective actions for the release of air pollutants, take preventative actions to ensure future demolitions do not release air pollutants and pay civil penalties.

Representatives of Hilco said they “continue to have an open and productive dialogue with authorities and look forward to bringing this to an appropriate resolution.”

The city has hit Hilco with 16 citations, which come with $68,000 in fines, for allowing the plume to inundate the surrounding neighborhood, the mayor’s office announced April 17.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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