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Federal judge rules lawsuit against Graphic Packaging can move forward

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (From news reports) -- A lawsuit surrounding gas emissions in Kalamazoo's Northside neighborhood was given the green light to continue forward.

A federal judge refused to toss out claims of private nuisance and negligence in a class action lawsuit against Kalamazoo paper mill, Graphic Packaging International, according to court records.

However, the judge dismissed a public nuisance claim in the lawsuit, filed by Northside residents, as a response to the paper mill's motion to dismiss, records show.

The lawsuit alleges gas emissions from the mill violated the Clean Air Act and Northside neighbors' civil rights.

It also claims Graphic Packaging has driven down property values.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' years-long study found hydrogen sulfide emissions in the Northside area were often over the EPA's level for safe life-time exposure and could result in serious health concerns.

Emissions from the report are linked to Graphic Packaging and Kalamazoo Water Reclamation Plant.

People who live near the factory on North Pitcher Street have complained about foul odors in the area for more than a decade. Some have blamed the emissions on serious health problems, including asthma.

The state health report found asthma rates and asthma-related hospitalizations in the area around the factory and water plant are not significantly higher than the rest of Michigan.

The lawsuit calls for a jury trial as well as damages totaling $600 million, records show.

It also called for Graphic Packaging to close or decrease gas emissions, according to the lawsuit.

Graphic Packaging International has said it's working with city leaders to help with the issue, spending a significant amount of money to reduce hydrogen sulfide levels to near zero, according to a spokesperson.

The company and the City of Kalamazoo installed air quality monitoring sensors.

A website tracking the city's sensors can be found online. Dates can be changed to see past emissions.

Graphic Packaging also increased the flow of oxygen and introduced hydrogen peroxide into its water stream, reducing unpleasant smells dramatically.

A company spokesperson wouldn't comment on pending litigation in an interview in June.

However, mill manager Tom Olstad said the paper plant formed a community advisory committee to solicit and respond to any future neighborhood concerns.

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