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Federal judge dismisses class action lawsuit against Graphic Packaging

A class action lawsuit filed in 2023 that alleged gas emissions from a Kalamazoo paper mill violated the Clean Air Act and civil rights was dismissed by a federal judge on Friday.

Environmental lawsuit Dancer v. United States of America was filed in June of 2023 against Graphic Packaging International, along with 21 other defendants such as the City of Kalamazoo, the State of Michigan, the United States of America, and multiple federal, state, and local officials.

The original complaint alleged that residents living in the northside neighborhood, a historically Black neighborhood, had been disproportionally affected by hazardous pollution from Graphic Packaging's plant for decades.

In May of 2023, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, or MDHHS, released the results from a health consultation that indicated that emission levels of hydrogen sulfide and other volatile organic compounds in the area were often higher than the EPA's limit.

Residents of the area had been complaining of foul odors coming from the plant, causing them various health issues such as headaches, lung issues, and other irritations.

Prior to its dismissal, the lawsuit called for a jury trial, $600 million in damages, and for Graphic Packaging to close or decrease gas emissions.

Working together with the City of Kalamazoo, the plant installed a monitoring system for residents to track emission levels.

The monitoring system can be found online, and users have the ability to change the dates to see past emission levels.

Graphic Packaging released the following statement regarding the dismissal:

We take our community's health and safety very seriously, and we take pride in our responsibility as a good neighbor, community partner and employer to 750 people at our Kalamazoo manufacturing facility. While we are pleased with the Court's ruling and remain proud of our work and our record in Kalamazoo, we will continue to seek solutions to help improve the environment. We have invested millions of dollars in ongoing facility improvements and air monitoring equipment. Since 2021, these investments have driven an 81% reduction in our hydrogen sulfide emissions levels, which were already under state limits. We will continue to work alongside city leaders and state and federal regulators to achieve further progress. However, we will also defend ourselves vigorously against false and frivolous claims.

Following the judge's decision, Kalamazoo Communications Manager Michael Smith said the city is pleased and that it was the "right decision based on facts and the law."

Read the full statement:

The City continues to make ongoing capital improvements to the Kalamazoo Wastewater Reclamation Plant, including more than $13 million in completed odor mitigation initiatives and $12 million in upcoming projects. Some of these projects include new processes in the KWRP to reduce the number of trucks leaving the plant, improvements to how waste is handled and stored, upgrades to the piping systems to minimize odors, as well as the placement of 19 air quality monitors in and around the KWRP.

The KWRP treats approximately 27 million gallons of wastewater daily from throughout the Kalamazoo County region, with daily testing and regulatory oversight from state and federal agencies.

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