Carrie Salls Jun. 25, 2016, 4:14pm

CHICAGO – Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office has filed a lawsuit against a suburban recycling company following a tire fire the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency claims jeopardized air and water quality. 

Madigan filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against GMI Recycling Services, Inc. following a tire fire at its 10-acre Ford Heights-based facility at 1705 Cottage Grove Ave. The complaint alleges that nearly half of the roughly 7,800 tons of shredded tires at the Ford Heights facility ignited on May 24, starting a fire that could reportedly be seen from miles away.

“The tires are not still burning, and we do not believe there is a risk of a flare-up for the fire,” Madigan spokeswoman Annie Thompson told the Cook County Record.

According to Madigan’s complaint, officials from the IEPA responding to the fire detected odors indicating the presence of volatile organic compounds. When burned, shredded tires release oils including benzene, toluene and metals, which can mix with water runoff from firefighting activities and rainfall, Madigan’s office said in a news release. 

“We sought and were granted an interim order to address any immediate environmental threats while the case continues,” Thompson said.

Madigan’s office said the court’s order requires GMI to secure the facility, notify the IEPA in the event there are any more flare-ups and immediately contain any additional flare-ups. GMI must also take steps to prevent potentially contaminated runoff in a retaining pond from spreading to nearby waters. According to Madigan’s complaint, a culvert on the east side of the Ford Heights facility discharges into Deer Creek and eventually flows into the Little Calumet River.

“This tire fire caused a significant threat to the environment and public health, and just as importantly, expended valuable resources of multiple fire departments, federal, state and local government agencies to respond to this emergency,” IEPA director Lisa Bonnett said in a statement. “The steps taken through this order will ensure prompt notification and required actions to limit environmental and public health impacts to the surrounding community.”

The GMI facility is in a residential area near schools and businesses. The attorney general’s release said tire fire emissions include pollutants such as carbon monoxide, chemicals and metals that pose health hazards. Madigan’s lawsuit seeks to prevent future contamination and to obtain appropriate civil penalties.

“ We sought and were granted a legally enforceable court order that GMI must comply with,” Thompson said. “Our case is ongoing.”

The agreed interim order gives Madigan and her employees and representatives and the IEPA, and its employees and representatives, the right to enter the GMI Ford Heights facility “at all reasonable times” to conduct inspections and check on the status of the company’s compliance with the order.

The interim order requires GMI to pay a penalty of $300 per day, per violation, if inspections reveal any non-compliance with the terms of the interim order. The penalties would be assessed until GMI returns to compliance.

Madigan’s complaint seeks payment of a $50,000 per violation civil penalty in connection with the actual fire, with an additional $10,000 penalty for each day the fire-related violation continued. Civil penalties are set by statute.

As part of the interim order, the court scheduled a July status conference.

Representatives from the IEPA did not return requests for comments.

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency
1021 North Grand Avenue East
Springfield, IL 62794

Illinois Attorney General
500 S 2nd St
Springfield, IL 62701

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20460

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