A 14-year struggle to protect an Indiana community from a polluting waste dump is coming to an end. A federal judge has approved a final class-action settlement requiring Soil Solutions Co. to cease operations of its waste facility in Elkhart.
Nearby residents have been exposed to dangerous pollution from decomposing waste piles for more than a decade, said Kim Ferraro, a senior staff attorney for the Hoosier Environmental Council, who worked on the case.
"It internally and spontaneously combusts, causing fires," she said. "The grinding produces dust in and of itself, but mainly it's the decomposing and smoldering of the woodpile that release the toxic and really smelly fumes into the neighborhood."
The settlement requires the company to have the site cleaned up within five years.
Ferraro said numerous explosions have occurred there, including a massive blaze in 2007 that burned for days, requiring the assistance of 30 fire departments and more than 8 million gallons of city water and water from the St. Joseph River to extinguish it.
The legal battle began in 2000, when residents reached out for relief to multiple agencies, including county officials, health departments, state leaders, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Violations were issued, but Ferraro said nothing was done to stop operations at the facility. She said local leaders should have stepped up and done something sooner under existing law.
"Communities that are like this one, that are largely working-class and poor, typically don't have the resources or political influence to resist polluting industries like this one," she said, "and so, I think that represents a flaw in environmental regulation."
The ruling awards no financial damages to the plaintiffs but leaves the door open for members of the class-action lawsuit to pursue damages against the prior owners of the facility.