Citizens consider lawsuit against factory for exposure to contamination

By Gus Bode

Attorneys from a Paducah, Ky. law firm came to hear residents of Carbondale’s northeast side air concerns about hazardous waste in their neighborhood and its possible health effects.

The Saturday meeting grew out of long-standing community concern about an abandoned wood-treatment plant at 1555 N. Marion St. The plant is owned by Beazer East, Inc. and formerly housed the Koppers Wood Treatment Company.

“We’re investigating to find out what the issues are, and whether there is potential for a lawsuit,” said Mark Bryant, an attorney from the firm Bryant & Kautz P.S.C. “Nothing binding exists at this time.”


The firm filed a class action lawsuit in February 2003 against the Canadian National Railroad after a derailment in Tamaroa spilled toxic chemicals. The case is still pending.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which began studying the site in 1981, found creosote used at the site has contaminated the soil and ground water. The EPA has classified creosote as a cancer-causing agent.

Willie Mack, one of about 20 northeast side residents who attended the meeting at Thomas School, said he suffers from several illnesses.

“I have health problems – cancer, heart attacks,” he said. “I was a healthy young man. Something is happening in this town and we need to get to the bottom of it.”

Former Koppers employee, Willie Neal, who previously lived on the northeast side of Carbondale, organized the meeting to provide information to community members.

“This is not a fight to stop the cleanup,” Neal said. “This is just to let people in the community know that there is a possibility they have been exposed to the contamination. There is a possibility that their health has been damaged by it.”

According to a U.S. EPA report, other soil and groundwater contaminants present at the site included beryllium, lead, arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Neal’s son Bruce said well water in the area has been bluish-green as long as he can remember. Bluish-green water can be a sign of lead contamination, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

On Aug. 3, the Carbondale City Council revised the city code to prohibit the use of groundwater as a potable water supply within the city limits.

Bryant urged residents at the meeting to contact Barrack Obama, Democratic State Senator and candidate for U.S. Senate, to draw national attention to their concerns.

Another public meeting is scheduled for Oct. 27 at Thomas school and representatives from the EPA are expected to attend.

Resident Margaret Nesbitt said she would like to organize a citizen’s march from the waste site to the school for the next meeting.

“We’re sitting here on a time bomb and it’s taking us down one by one,” Nesbitt said.

The owner of the site, Beazer East, Inc., purchased the site from the Koppers Wood Treating Company in 1988. Beazer East is responsible for the 12-step cleanup, which will cost an estimated $10.8 million.

According to a public health assessment conducted by the Illinois Department of Public Health, a 1981 incident prompted the Illinois EPA to conduct a preliminary investigation into contamination at the site. Two cows grazing on land next to the Koppers facility died, and an autopsy conducted on one of them revealed it had ingested material containing creosote.

The EPA plans to monitor the site for 30 years after the cleanup is completed.

Neal said even though he believes a lawsuit should be filed, he doesn’t care about collecting any money.

“I’m retired,” he told the gathering. “Everything I’ve got is paid for. I’m here because of your health and your life – something you can’t get back.”