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Office of the
Illinois Attorney General
Kwame Raoul

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April 24, 2023

Mowery Auto Parts Fire on Jan. 11 Released Noxious Emissions

Chicago Attorney General Kwame Raoul today announced a lawsuit over a Jan. 11 fire at Mowery Auto Parts in Freeport, Illinois. Raoul’s seven-count complaint alleges the fire resulted in a substantial danger to the environment and public health, air and water pollution, unpermitted open dumping of waste and open burning of used or waste tires.

The Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit in Stephenson County Circuit Court against Mowery Auto Parts (Mowery), which is owned by Crossroads Metals Inc., and the landowner, known as Outlaw TBO LLC. In addition to the complaint, Raoul’s office filed an agreed immediate preliminary injunction, under which Mowery and Outlaw TBO agree to investigate and clean up contamination of soil and water at and around the facility. Mowery Auto Parts is located next to the Pecatonica River.

“While fires can cause extreme loss to personal and business properties, tire fires can also spread dangerous toxins into the air we breathe and the waters we enjoy. Since the facility abuts the Pecatonica River, cleanup from the fire and preventative measures are essential to ensure the adverse effects to the environment in the community are addressed,” said Raoul. “This lawsuit and agreed immediate preliminary injunction ensure specific actions are taken to clean up contamination at and around this facility.”

The January salvage yard fire burned bailers, tire machines, salvage vehicles and about 300 used or waste tires, and it resulted in the emission of smoke, particulate matter and potentially other unknown contaminants into the atmosphere. It took local fire departments approximately four and a half hours and 300,000 gallons of water to extinguish the fire. Automotive fluids, fire combustion residue, junk vehicles, equipment and the remains of a building consumed by the fire pose public health and environmental hazards to the local area, including groundwater and the Pecatonica River.

On Jan. 12, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which referred this case to Raoul’s office, inspected the facility and identified several hotspots where flames had reignited, including a burning pile of tires and a burning vehicle, in addition to the firefighting runoff. On the same day, the Office of the State Fire Marshall, Division of Arson Investigation, performed an investigation and determined human error caused the fire. According to Raoul’s lawsuit, the firefighting runoff left a visible sheen along the property and also on a nearby stream that flows into the Pecatonica River. The lawsuit also alleges a dark, oily substance, which is believed to have been the result of the fire, was observed along the riverbank.

“The Illinois EPA investigation following the fire at Mowery Auto Parts identified significant environmental concerns, including the release of contaminants to the air, significant impacts to the local soil, and to the Pecatonica River,” said Illinois EPA Director John J. Kim. “This lawsuit will ensure appropriate measures are taken to address those concerns.”

The agreed immediate preliminary injunction requires Mowery Auto Parts to undertake multiple clean up and preventive actions, within specific timelines to address the contamination from the fire. Mowery has already constructed a concrete retaining wall to prevent contaminated precipitation runoff into the Pecatonica River, exhumed and disposed of impacted soil from a drainage swale, and installed absorbent booms in the swales that lead to the Pecatonica River to contain and prevent additional contaminants from reaching the river.

Mowery also agreed to take the following additional actions:

  • Investigate and remediate any on- and off-site soil and groundwater contamination from the fire.
  • Perform a special waste determination and a hazardous waste determination concerning the water and residual sediment remaining in the containment area behind the retention wall, and then properly dispose of the waste.
  • Clean the concrete surface of the retention wall and properly dispose of the water used for cleaning.
  • Ensure the water, residual sediment and soil from the facility is not disposed of until they are properly characterized and the facility has written approval for disposal.
  • Submit diagrams of the facility showing the various operations and an inventory of chemicals, fluids, used car parts, scrap and/or used car batteries, and other materials that were kept inside and outside the building on Jan. 11.
  • Submit an updated Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan to ensure contaminated storm water is not discharged to the Pecatonica River.
  • Submit a 2023 Used and/or Waste Tire Activity Registration form.
  • Provide records of business operations, including fluids, materials and tires that were at the facility within the past six months.
  • Provide monthly progress reports on the status of all work required by the order.

Assistant Attorneys General Audrey Avila and Rebecca Kanz are handling this case for the Attorney General’s Environmental Law Bureau.