Cook County Record

Friday, January 17, 2020

Jury: Trucking companies not to blame for drinking water contamination in Sauk Village

By Jonathan Bilyk | Apr 18, 2017

Chicago federal courthouse flamingo from rear

A federal jury has ruled two trucking companies are not liable for drinking water contamination in suburban Sauk Village, granting a win to their firms in their court battle with the village, which had contended the trucking companies spilled cancer-causing chemicals into the groundwater the village pumps from its wells into the homes and businesses connected to its water system.

On April 13, the jury entered its verdict, ending a four-day trial and coming as potentially the final step in a legal battle dating back to 2014.

At that time, the village, located in far southern Cook County, first filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court, accusing the trucking firms, Roadway Express and YRC Worldwide, of leaking chemical pollutants, including vinyl chloride, into the ground near one of the village’s three wells.

The complaint said the trucking companies had told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about problems with leaking underground chemical storage tanks at its Sauk Village facility from 1989 to 2005, as well as other spills of non-petroleum chemicals.

According to the village’s complaint, regular testing in 2008 first showed higher than permitted levels of vinyl chloride in the water coming from Well No. 3, which is also on Roadway Express’ property.

After disconnecting Well No. 3 from the village’s water supply to allow time to investigate, the village said it also began detecting rising levels of vinyl chloride in its other two wells, as well, prompting the village to spend $5.3 million to address the problem, and to petition for an emergency connection to Lake Michigan water to continue to meet the water needs of the village’s 10,000 residents.

According to the National Cancer Institute, vinyl chloride is an artificially produced chemical compound, which does not occur naturally, and is primarily used by industry to manufacture PVC pipes and other vinyl products. Vinyl chloride is associated with an increased risk of various cancers, the National Cancer Institute said.

The trucking companies disputed the village’s accusations, saying they were not to blame for the contamination.

The companies removed the case to federal court in 2015.

Ultimately, the jury sided with the companies.

“Our clients, Roadway Express and YRC Worldwide, are very pleased with the unanimous verdict,” said Richard U. S. Howell, an attorney with the firm of Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago, which represented the trucking firms. “It was a complete victory and vindication for YRC and Roadway Express.

"The victory signifies the end of protracted litigation between the village and our clients as the jury found that Roadway and YRC were not a cause of the vinyl chloride contamination affecting the Sauk Village wells.”

Sauk Village was represented in the action by attorneys with the firms of Odelson & Sterk, of Evergreen Park, and Davis & Norris, of Birmingham, Ala.

Other Cook County suburbs have also struggled with vinyl chloride contamination. Since 2009, the village of Crestwood, located about 20 miles northwest of Sauk Village, has dealt with political and legal fallout over accusations officials there covered up the presence of vinyl chloride in the village’s well water supply for decades, resulting in cancers and other health problems for village residents.

Crestwood has settled much of the litigation resulting from those accusations.

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Organizations in this Story

Kirkland & Ellis LLPOdelson & Sterk Ltd.Davis & Norris LLPVillage of SaukU.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois