Serial violator of Indiana environmental laws faces lawsuit‏

Nick Rees Dec. 21, 2009, 9:00pm

Greg Zoeller

ELKHART, Ind. (Legal Newsline) - An Elkhart County recycler with a history of environmental violations, worker-safety violations and public complaints is now the subject of a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Greg Zoeller.

The lawsuit against VIM Recycling Inc., follows a recent inspection that found multiple violations at the company's Elkhart wood-recycling operation. The suit seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions and civil penalties as well as a requirement that the company cease open dumping of wood waste and remove waste materials and debris.

VIM Recycling is alleged in the complaint, filed in Elkhart County Superior Court, to have continued to haul in and deposit B-grade solid waste, which consists of scraps and pieces of treated wood from mobile-home manufacturing waste, onto the Elkhart site in violation of state laws against open dumping, polluting or creating fire hazards.

A cycle of noncompliance with directives of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management is also alleged in the suit, which says that VIM Recycling's actions could damage the public health and environment.

Zoeller, citing the history of violations at VIM Recycling, called the illegal dumping the last straw in filing his lawsuit.

"This company has been given multiple opportunities by the State of Indiana," Zoeller said. "They've just run out of second chances."

Other problems reported at the site include complaints by residents in the area of stench, smoke and wood dust.

One workers was killed at VIM Recycling and another injured in a June 2007 explosion and massive fire that fueled concerns about unsafe working conditions. A second worker was killed in May 2009 in a separate accident.

Before the 2007 fire, VIM Recycling had been required to remove all C-grade waste, consisting of weathered, rotting wood scraps. The company missed that deadline for removal and a suit was filed in October 2008 to enforce the order.

This June, VIM Recycling was cited by the EPA for violations of the Clean Air Act for smoke emanating from piles of wood still smoldering from the June 2007 fire that was polluting neighborhood air. The company is required, by year's end, to haul away the large pieces of combustible C-grade waste under an agreement with the EPA.

VIM Recycling was the subject of an Indiana State Fire Marshal lawsuit over fire-safety violations involving the height and stability of wood piles and space between them that constitutes a fire hazard.

VIM Recycling was found to have illegally opened a second recycling site in Warsaw, Ind., without the necessary permits for grinding chemically-treated B-grade wood waste. Upon its discovery, a preliminary injunction was sought and obtained.

Despite warnings, VIM Recycling has continued to deliver B-grade wood waste from elsewhere to deposit on the site in the face of warnings that further dumping is prohibited. The company has complied with an EPA-required cleanup of larger C-grade wood waste, which is almost complete, though a large volume of smaller C-grade pieces remain.

"This company has demonstrated its contempt for state and federal environmental laws," Zoeller said.

Zoeller's lawsuit asks the court for an injunction ordering VIM Recycling to cease-and-desist from dumping contaminants, to remove solid wastes and dispose of them properly, to comply with all federal, state and local laws, and to document that B-grade wood wastes are removed to an appropriate processing facility.

A civil penalty of up to $25,000 per day per violation can be imposed by the court against VIM Recycling under state environmental laws.

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