Chillicothe, Ohio, USA 25 June 2015 -- (From the Chillicothe Gazette) -- A Columbus law firm has filed a $5 million class action lawsuit against Glatfelter Inc. over claims from plaintiffs that emissions from the Chillicothe paper mill have damaged property and created a nuisance.
The lawsuit brought by South Hickory Street resident Teresa Ford, Ervin Avenue resident Jack Leach and Patton Hill Road resident Rhonda Leeson, claims the paper mill releases "noxious odors and air particulates onto Plaintiffs' property, causing property damage through trespass, negligence, gross negligence and nuisance," according to the complaint.
As a class action suit, the lawsuit may end up representing as many as "hundreds, if not thousands" of potential plaintiffs, according to the suit, since it identifies the class as, "All owner/occupants and renters of residential property residing within one and one-half miles of the facility's property boundary."
In March, attorneys sent letters to area residents offering a free consultation and the opportunity to join a class action suit against the company.
The lawsuit, filed Monday with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio's Eastern Division, states that the plaintiffs do not wish to close the paper mill, but rather seek to stop practices that result in the release of odors.
Glatfelter was mentioned as a possible source in four instances last fall and winter in which foul odors raised concerns among residents. The first, which took place Sept. 9, was looked into by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency but no connection was confirmed between the smell and the plant and both Glatfelter and the EPA stated the plant was functioning normally at the time the smell was being reported.
The second involved a Halloween discharge that took place when a mechanism designed to capture sulfur malfunctioned and a backup unit failed, requiring a temporary shutdown of an air handling unit to correct the problem. The Ohio EPA found in that incident that hydrogen sulfite and methyl mercaptan had been released into the air at levels that required reporting to the EPA. One of the chemicals is a byproduct of the pulping process while the other is mainly an odorant that functions similarly to what is added to odorless natural gas in order to help detect leaks.
In that instance, the EPA determined the amount of the discharge had the potential to cause minor health problems such as sore throats, watery eyes and nausea as far away as a mile. The odor, however, was the focus of several social media posts and some 911 calls from as far away as Columbus and Newark.
The third was noted by the Ohio EPA on Dec. 16 and a fourth was noted on Jan. 7 and 8, according to a notice of violation sent to the company on Feb. 4. In that letter, the EPA was critical of the amount of time it took the company to report equipment malfunctions from the October and December incidents and stated that both the October and January situations involved emissions above acceptable levels that, under terms of the Ohio Administrative Code, classify as a public nuisance.
Following that letter, the company was given 30 days to submit a plan and schedule to get the mill back into compliance.
"The plan should specify the corrective actions that will be taken, addressing in particular the timely reporting of malfunctions and prevention of odor-causing events, and the schedule should include a timeline for completing those corrective actions," the letter reads.
In the lawsuit filed Monday, the Columbus firm of Kitrick, Lewis & Harris Co., Columbus attorney Robert J. Wagoner and Detroit, Michigan, firm Liddle & Dubin P.C. are listed as attorneys of record. They claim Glatfelter "intentionally, recklessly, willfully, wantonly, maliciously, grossly and negligently failed to construct, maintain and operate the facility" and, as a result, created a nuisance that caused a damage to the plaintiffs' properties as the odors and air particulates settled on their homes and properties.
They also claim that the odors interfere with the enjoyment of their properties and have created "an unreasonable risk of harm" to residents.
A representative of Glatfelter is looking into the lawsuit and indicated there may be a response from the company either sometime later Tuesday or Wednesday.