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People v. Joliet Ry. Equipment Co.

OPINION FILED JULY 8, 1982.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

JOLIET RAILWAY EQUIPMENT CO. ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. Thomas W. Vinson, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE HEIPLE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied September 3, 1982.

This is an appeal by a salvage company from an injunction issued against their various business operations. The Attorney General, on behalf of the State, filed a complaint against the defendants seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties for alleged violations of the Environmental Protection Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 111 1/2, par. 1001 et seq.). The defendant, Joliet Railway Equipment Company (Joliet), operates a railroad car salvage business with a salvage yard near Rockdale in unincorporated Will County, Illinois, and a railway car storage area in nearby Crest Hill, Illinois. The defendants, Arthur Pielet, Robert Pielet, and James Pielet are officers and stockholders of Joliet. Defendant Wally Knippenberg was the Rockdale salvage yard manager for Joliet.

The occurrence which precipitated the State's complaint was a fire at the Rockdale salvage yard during the dismantling of two sulfur tank cars on April 12, 1979. The fire produced sulfur dioxide smoke which carried into the building of a nearby industry, the National Bottle Company. Several National Bottle employees became ill and required medical attention.

The heart of the defendants' business involves the dismantling of retired railroad tank cars, boxcars, and flat cars with acetylene or propane cutting torches. When in service, the tank cars carried a variety of chemicals.

In its complaint, the State alleged that the defendants' method of dismantling tank cars caused air pollution and open burning. The State further alleged that the defendants' entire salvaging operation caused and allowed open burning over the preceding six years. Purportedly, open burning resulted from: the use of cutting torches near combustible materials, the improper storage and handling of combustible materials, and the absence of adequate fire protection facilities.

The Environmental Protection Act (the Act) provides in pertinent part:

"No person shall:

(a) Cause or threaten or allow the discharge or emission of any contaminant into the environment in any State so as to cause or tend to cause air pollution in Illinois, either alone or in combination with contaminants from other sources, or so as to violate regulations or standards adopted by the Board under this Act;

(c) Cause or allow the open burning of refuse, conduct any salvage operation by open burning, or cause or allow the burning of any refuse in any chamber not specifically designed for the purpose and approved by the Agency pursuant to regulations adopted by the Board under this Act; except that the Board may adopt regulations permitting open burning of refuse in certain cases upon a finding that no harm will result from such burning, or that any alternative method of disposing of such refuse would create a safety hazard so extreme as to justify the pollution that would result from such burning." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 111 1/2, par. 1009(a), (c).

Air pollution and open burning are defined in the Act as follows:

"`Air Pollution' is the presence in the atmosphere of one or more contaminants in sufficient quantities and of such characteristics and duration as to be injurious to human, plant, or animal life, to health, or to property, or to unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment of life or property." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 111 1/2, par. 1003(b).

"`Open Burning' is the combustion of any matter in the open or in an open dump." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 111 1/2, par. 1003(n).

A seven-day bench trial established that a fire occurred at the Rockdale salvage yard on April 12, 1979. Defendant Knippenberg, the yard manager, and Luis Magna, an employee, testified that the fire occurred during the process of dismantling a railroad tank car. Magna testified the fire was caused, in part, by the fact that a water hose which could have been used to supply water to the fire was constricted by a tanker car which was laying upon it. Upon freeing the hose, the area was sprayed down and the previously visible smoke disappeared. The fire reignited that evening after the employees departed. The fire was finally extinguished by Magna and other employees.

Employees of National Bottle Company, a nearby factory, testified that they suffered dizziness, vomiting, nausea, headaches, and tearing of the eyes on the day the fire occurred. The State's medical expert, Dr. Meyer, testified such symptons were commonly associated with sulfur dioxide inhalation.

The State maintained that because of a unity of interest between various members of the Pielet family that each of them, individually, should be enjoined from carrying on the proscribed activities under any business name. To this end, the State introduced evidence to establish the ownership of Joliet in the following proportions:

Pielet Bros. Scrap Iron and Metal, Inc. 72% Arthur Pielet 18% James Pielet 5% Robert Pielet 5%

Further testimony revealed that 92.5% of Pielet Bros. Scrap Iron and Metal, Inc., is owned by Arthur Pielet with the remaining portion owned by his children and grandchildren. Arthur, James and Robert Pielet are all officers of Joliet as well as Pielet Bros. Scrap Iron and Metal, Inc. Defendant Knippenberg was responsible for buying and selling railroad cars and for establishing the manner in which the cars are dismantled at the Rockdale yard facility for Joliet. Testimony indicated that outside of the Rockdale salvage yard, Joliet stored railroad cars at its siding in Crest Hill. Robert Pielet testified that Pielet Bros., Inc., operated a salvage yard at McCook but that no Joliet operations were performed there.

Evidence was adduced at trial about the general modus operandi of the salvage yard. The evidence indicated that when purchased, many of the tank cars still had chemical residues. These residues, when subjected to the heat from the cutting torches, produced fumes which were often toxic. In the incident that gave ...


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