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Utility Ordered To Pay $3 Million For Coal-Linked Cancer Verdict Finds Illinois Tar Cleanup Led To 4 Children Contracting Neuroblastoma

Sat., March 28, 1998

A utility that cleaned up coal tar at an old plant was ordered Friday to pay $3 million to the families of four children in this small town who were struck with a rare form of cancer.

Two contractors were cleared in the case.

The families contend their children contracted neuroblastoma after a 1987 cleanup at the long-abandoned plant owned by Central Illinois Public Service Co. of Springfield stirred up coal tar dust and fumes.

Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer of the adrenal glands or the sympathetic nervous system. It occurs about once in every 100,000 births.

Family members sobbed and hugged as the verdict was read.

The plaintiffs said coal tar emissions from the site led to their children’s cancer. The utility argued there was no direct evidence that the children were exposed to significant levels of emissions or that coal tar causes neuroblastoma.

Three children - Zachary Donaldson, Chad Hryhorysak, and Erika May - were diagnosed with neuroblastoma between March 1989 and March 1990 and are in remission. A fourth child, Brandon Steele, was diagnosed with the disease in August 1991 and later died.

Brandon’s family was awarded $1,263,017.20; Chad’s family was awarded $1,188,892.42; Zachary’s family was awarded $358,067.75; and Erika’s family was awarded $398,109.05.

A leaking underground tank of coal tar was discovered in 1985 while new owners of the old CIPS site were digging for a septic tank.

CIPS, now known as AmerenCIPS, bought the property back to undertake a cleanup ordered by state environmental officials.

Most of the cleanup was done in 1987 and was finished in 1989 when the site was backfilled with clean soil.

The original coal gasification plant opened on the site in 1892 to make street lights. CIPS bought the operation in 1912 and closed it 20 years later.

Coal tar is used in household products such as dog shampoo and dry skin ointments, although some of the chemicals in coal tar have been linked to higher rates of cancer in animals and humans.

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