A group of residents of Chicago’s southeast side fed up with the stench from a neighboring animal feed processing plant have asked a judge to order the feed factory’s owners to pay up for not better controlling their “noxious odors.”
On June 4, attorneys from the firms of Sneckenberg, Thompson & Brody LLP and Liddle & Dubin P.C., both of Chicago, filed a class action complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against Agri-Fine Inc. The complaint is filed on behalf of five residents living on South Hoxie Avenue and South Yates Avenue in Chicago’s South Deering neighborhood.
However, the complaint asserts the action could grow to include many others who live or own property around Agri-Fine’s processing plant at 2701 E. 100th St.
According to its website, Agri-Fine’s Chicago plant uses chemicals such as sulfuric acid to convert a product known as “soapstock” - an oil-water emulsion byproduct of the refining of grains, like corn, canola, soybeans and other crops - into “an all-vegetable, virgin oil,” which is then used to produce feed products for livestock.
The plant includes several units which can create emissions, including steam-heated storage tanks, steam-heated biodiesel feedstock tanks, two dozen processing vats and two boilers powered by natural gas, according to the neighbors’ complaint.
While Agri-Fine says they work within a “niche business, but an important one,” neighbors have long contended the process produces odors which have “invaded” their lives and homes, sickened some neighbors and degraded the quality of life in the neighborhood.
The neighbors’ complaint compares the odors to “rotten garbage” and “sewage.”
In November 2014, those complaints resulted in regulatory action by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who sued the company over the odors, about which she noted residents had complained since at least 2011. That case remains pending in Cook County Chancery Court.
The class action complaint references the attorney general’s action, noting the action has “failed to compel defendant (Agri-Fine) to cease the improper operation of its facility.”
The complaint also asserts Agri-Fine is limited by its operating permit to emit only 0.3 tons of hydrogen sulfide annually. Yet, the complaint alleges Agri-Fine significantly exceeded that permitted amount in 2011 and 2012, “emitting at least 1.77 tons of hydrogen sulfide per year.”
The neighbors’ complaint asserts Agri-Fine “knowingly continues to operate its facility without proper or best available odor control technology,” and “knowingly allows (neighboring) properties to be invaded and damaged by noxious odors.”
Current technology and “engineering standards could and should” prevent the odors from reaching the neighboring properties, the plaintiffs’ complaint asserts.
The plaintiffs three-count complaint includes allegations of nuisance, trespass and negligence.
The plaintiffs have asked the judge to certify a class and award unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.