Attorney General Madigan sues Alsip chemical plant over explosion

Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit Friday asking a judge to order a review of what caused an explosion earlier this month at a chemical factory that left two workers hurt.

Madigan filed the lawsuit Friday at the request of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, seeking an injunction that would order Blue Island Phenol of Alsip to conduct an analysis of the blast and its environmental impact.

The lawsuit also accuses the plant of multiple violations of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act.

The explosion at 11:30 a.m. Dec. 13 rocked the plant at 131st Street and South Homan Avenue, triggering a major emergency response from 40 area fire departments.

Two employees were burned in the explosion and fire, which destroyed a storage facility and damaged other buildings at the plant.

The explosion and fire followed a chemical release in the factory’s cumene unit, which manufactures phenol and acetone. The process to produce the chemicals runs continuously, and the two reactors used to store the chemicals were not damaged, plant manager Bill Moffatt said after the explosion.

According to the lawsuit, the explosion was caused by propane gas leaking from a ruptured pipe in the cumene unit and forming a vapor cloud, which then was ignited by an unknown source.

Alsip Fire Chief Tom Styczynski said the day of the explosion that he did not believe the fire and resulting fumes posed any threat to nearby residents.

However, Madigan’s lawsuit states that about 5,165 gallons of propane and about 2,035 gallons of “cumene co-product” — a mixture of chemicals that includes benzene — were released into the environment surrounding the plant as a result of the blast.

The five-count lawsuit states that the plant posed a sustainable danger to the environment, public health and welfare. It also accuses the plant of air pollution, creating a water pollution hazard and failure to minimize the release of hazardous substances.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction that would find the plant guilty on all counts and require it to bring in an independent engineer to analyze the cause of the explosion and the environmental impact of the released chemicals on the surrounding area.

The injunction also would require the plant to cease all production in the cumene unit and reimburse the state for costs incurred by the emergency response to the blast.

In addition to the reimbursement, the lawsuit is seeking $50,000 in damages for each violation of the Environmental Protection Act as well as $10,000 for each day of violations.