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of Peckar & Abramson, P.C. -- (312) 239-9722

U.S. EPA Reaches $39,926 Settlement With Founder of River Forest Dry Cleaners Superfund Site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced in a Federal Register Notice that it reached an administrative settlement for recovery of past response costs with Edward Ditchfield, the founder of the River Forest Dry Cleaners Superfund site in River Forest, Cook County, Illinois.  River Forest is a suburb of Chicago.  The settlement requires Ditchfield to pay $39,926, plus possible accrued interest.

After EPA received an e-mail from a concerned teacher, U.S. EPA conducted indoor air and sub-slab samples in facilities around the Site in November 2009, February 2010 and March 2010. The results did not indicate any level of contamination that warranted a removal action.  According to a news article on, River Forest Dry Cleaners admitted that its dry cleaning chemicals seeped into the ground. River Forest has a law specifically banning the use of well water (groundwater) and, therefore, the contaminated well water did not endanger the public.

Under the Superfund law (also known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act or “CERCLA”), owners or operators of facilities are liable for the federal government’s costs incurred in response to a release of hazardous substances.  Those response costs can include investigation, testing, and site assessment.

In this case, U.S. EPA apparently incurred response costs when it investigated and conducted sampling at the site.  Ditchfield, as an owner or operator of the site, may have been liable to reimburse U.S. EPA for those past response costs.

The public has the right to submit comments on the proposed settlement on or before December 19, 2011.  According to the Federal Register notice, comments should be addressed to environmental attorney Peter Felitti at U.S. EPA.

Stay tuned to the Illinois Environmental Law Blog for more news and developments. To subscribe to this blog and and sign up for my free newsletter, go to To set up a free initial consultation to discuss your legal matter, please contact Chicago environmental attorney Dave Scriven-Young at (312) 239-9722 or

  • Bob

    This is so typical of IEPA. When the state is facing a huge potential clean up cost, they find a way to make the problem not a problem. In this case, the dry cleaner did not have any assets for the state to go after. So the state would have had to pay for the clean up. The little fine this guy paid was the only money the state could get.

    This is similar to the asbestos that keeps washing up at Illinois beach state park. The state claims that hundreds of pieces that was up on the beach from the old Mansville asbestos plant are not a hazard. Yet, these pieces are friable and kids play in the sand with the asbestos pieces.

    The reason this is not a problem is that IEPA signed a settle agreement with Mansville years ago and Mansville is off the hook. IEPA would be totally responsible for the clean up costs estimated to be over 50 million dollars.

    Ironically, if you break 3 floor tiles is a school, IDPH claims is it a health hazard and requires a major clean up. Even though no testing has ever shown this to be of any risk. Such is the hypocrisy of the politics of Illinois. Of course, one of the bigger asbestos abatement firms was the brother in law of the head of the IDPH asbestos branch.

    If it does not make sense – follow the money.

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    The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the federal government’s ability to criminally prosecute environmental activists who destroy property under the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (“AETA”).

    In United States v. Johnson, the defendants travelled from Los Angeles, California to a mink farm in Morris, Illinois. The mink farm was in the business of breeding, raising, and selling minks to fur manufacturers. At the mink farm, the defendants released approximately 2000 minks from their cages. They also removed portions of the fence surrounding the mink farm to help the minks escape, and they destroyed the minks’ breeding cards, which were needed to sell the minks to a furrier. In addition, they poured caustic substances on two farm vehicles and spray-painted the words “Liberation is Love” on a barn. The vandalism caused between $120,000 and $200,000 worth of damage. The defendants then began traveling to a fox farm in Roanoke, Illinois, which bred foxes to sell to fur manufacturers. They planned to damage the fox farm as well, but they were arrested by local law enforcement before they arrived at the fox farm. The defendants were charged in state court with possession of burglary tools and were convicted. They were sentenced to 30 months imprisonment.

    Then, the defendants were charged with violating the AETA by the federal government. Count I of the indictment alleged that they conspired to travel in interstate commerce for the purpose of damaging and interfering with the operation of an animal enterprise, and in connection with that purpose, damaged the property of an animal enterprise. Count II alleged that the defendants damaged real and personal property used by an animal enterprise. The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment against them, asserting that the AETA was facially overbroad, was unconstitutionally vague, and violated substantive due process because it labeled persons who committed the act as “terrorists”. The District Court denied the motion to dismiss.

    The Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling that rejected all of the defendants’ arguments. In particular, the defendants suggested that the AETA prohibited advocacy that caused damage to only intangible property such as profits or goodwill. The court rejected that argument and held that the AETA prohibited destruction of or damage to tangible items and property owned by the animal enterprise. In fact, the court looked at the legislative history of the AETA, which reinforced the conclusion that it was not intended to criminalize speech or expressive conduct that caused damage only to the animal enterprise’s profits or goodwill. Several legislators made statements indicating that, while the statute was being passed to combat the violence being perpetrated against animal enterprises as well as people and entities connected to animal enterprises, Congress was aware of the importance of protecting the First Amendment right to engage in lawful protest against animal enterprises. In particular, the court looked at a speech by Senator Feinstein stating: “I fully recognize that peaceful picketing and public demonstrations against animal testing should be recognized as part of our valuable and sacred right to free expression. For this reason, all conduct protected by the First Amendment is expressly excluded from the scope of this legislation. This law effectively protects the actions of the law-abiding protester while carefully distinguishing the criminal activity of extremists.” In summary, the court found that the text of the statute as well as the legislative history made clear that the statute does not criminalize speech or expressive conduct that causes damage only to intangible profits or goodwill of an animal enterprise.

    The Seventh Circuit had an easy task in this case, deciding to interpret the statute to criminalize destructive conduct but keeping the door open to reasonable protests that do not harm private property. Environmental activists need to be aware of this line in the sand that has been drawn by Congress and the courts.
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    2 weeks ago  ·