ATTORNEY GENERAL RAOUL FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST SUGAR CAMP ENERGY, LLC OVER MISUSE OF TOXIC “FOREVER CHEMICALS”
Chicago — Attorney General Kwame Raoul today filed a lawsuit against Sugar Camp Energy, LLC (Sugar Camp) alleging that the company violated the Illinois Environmental Protection Act by causing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – also known as “forever chemicals” for their persistence in the environment – to be discharged into waters near one of its coal mines.
Raoul’s lawsuit was filed in Franklin County Circuit Court and includes allegations of water pollution, creating a water pollution hazard, and discharges in violation of the limitations of the company’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. Raoul’s lawsuit alleges the pollution is the result of Sugar Camp using firefighting foam containing PFAS in an attempt to extinguish an underground fire that erupted at its mine facility in August 2021.
“Sugar Camp jeopardized public safety and irresponsibly violated both state environmental statutes and the constraints of its permit by misusing dangerous ‘forever chemicals’,” Raoul said. “Exposure to such chemicals can cause long-lasting damage to the environment and poses a serious risk to public health. My office will work to ensure that Sugar Camp is held accountable for the damage it has done by using these chemicals.”
Sugar Camp owns and operates the Sugar Camp mine, a coal mining operation located near Macedonia, Illinois. In 2016, Sugar Camp was issued an NPDES permit that authorized the company to discharge wastewater from specified outfalls at its mining facility, subject to limitations. The NPDES Permit does not authorize Sugar Camp to discharge PFAS. The facility operates a network of pumps and pipelines that pump water from its two longwall mines in order to prevent underground flooding of the mines. This water is pumped to two slurry impoundments at the facility, and is ultimately discharged into nearby waters, including the Middle Fork of the Big Muddy River.
According to Raoul’s lawsuit, an underground fire broke out in one of the Sugar Camp Mine’s two longwall mines on or around Aug. 14, 2021. Raoul alleges that Sugar Camp used firefighting foams containing PFAS to extinguish the fire. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) subsequently received a citizen complaint regarding firefighting foam being discovered in a farm field ditch and a tributary to Akin Creek, which is located near the facility. The IEPA conducted an inspection and found evidence of the firefighting foam in the tributary to Akin Creek and in other nearby areas. Raoul’s complaint alleges that laboratory analysis of water samples revealed the presence of PFAS in the water. Subsequent sampling done by Sugar Camp further revealed the presence of PFAS in the facility’s impoundments and in permitted outfalls.
“Sugar Camp Energy, LLC’s use of aqueous firefighting foam (AFFF) containing PFAS in the manner it did resulted in PFAS contaminated firefighting foam being discharged to the ground and impacting area water sources,” IEPA Director John J. Kim said. “Illinois EPA has serious concerns about the potential for environmental and health impacts related to PFAS and is taking a number of steps to address this emerging contaminant. This incident violated several provisions of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act, and the company must take action to address the environmental impacts.”
PFAS are human-made, synthetic chemicals that do not exist naturally in the environment. PFAS are highly toxic to humans and animals, and they are extremely resistant to degradation in the environment, which is why PFAS are known as “forever chemicals.” PFAS contaminants may be linked to serious adverse health effects in humans and animals, including increased serum cholesterol, immune dysregulation, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and kidney and testicular cancers. Exposure to certain types of PFAS is also associated with low birth weight in humans, suppressed immune system response, dyslipidemia, impaired kidney function and delayed onset of menstruation.
Raoul’s lawsuit seeks to require Sugar Camp to immediately take corrective action to stop the discharge of PFAS or firefighting foam containing PFAS into nearby waters. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties of up to $50,000 for each violation, and additional civil penalties of $10,000 for each day the violation continues.
Assistant Attorneys General Andrew Armstrong and Kevin Bonin are handling the case for Raoul’s Environmental Bureau.