Statista and Newsweek magazine assessed corporations across the country for their second annual list of America’s most responsible companies, honoring Koppers, and some residents are not happy. 
For almost a century, the land located where the former Koppers wood-treating plant once operated contaminated land with creosote and other dangerous carcinogens in Carbondale, Illinois. 
The residence of Marilyn Tipton in the center of the frame living near the Koppers plant to the left of the frame. Photo courtesy of Mike Slenska.
Marilyn Tipton, a resident of the neighborhood where the Koppers facility was operational, said Koppers being honored as one of the most responsible companies in the country is a slap in the face to the community who still lives near the site today. 

“Really now…this a slap in the face.”  

Tipton asked, do the people who awarded Koppers know who these people are? 
Tipton also asked, is the honor based on the old Koppers or the new Koppers? 
“When they gave them this award…did they know the history of the company and what they’ve done to people for years?” Tipton said. “They’re looking at what they are now, not what they’ve been.” 

The award Koppers received is a joke. 

“I think that Newsweek should’ve done more research to see how many lives they affected,” Tipton said.  
Melissa McCutchen, a member of Concerned Citizens of Carbondale (CCC), said the award might have assessed Kopper’s company morale but not its history.  
McCutchen said her father, William McCutchen, the founder of the CCC, was active in the community regarding the Koppers controversy over environmental pollution. 
McCutchen, who graduated from Southern Illinois University Carbondale with a degree in social work and another degree in workforce education and development, said she became a part of CCC when the community first learned about the contaminants at the site. 

“I was at the meeting when we first found out about the dioxin and creosote poisoning.”

McCutchen also said Koppers had received an award, and environmental responsibility is a component while the past is not. 
“You know how those awards work,” McCutchen said.  
McCutchen said Newsweek may not have assessed Kopper’s past practices or whether the company is best improved now.  
“Maybe they are not aware of the years of contamination of employees in Carbondale, Illinois,” McCutchen said. 
 “So, I would hope that they are not aware and it was a decision made without having the full spectrum,” McCutchen said. 
Newsweek honors Koppers  
The Koppers company, currently owned by Beazer East Inc., which are the company successors focusing on environmental management, received an award for being the most responsible company among almost 400 other companies nationwide this year and in 2021.  
“Koppers, an integrated global provider of treated wood products, wood treatment chemicals and carbon compounds, has been named by the magazine in recognition of its corporate performance in environmental, social and governance areas,” according to a 2020 press release. 
Statista is the leading market and consumer data provider, while Newsweek provides the latest news, in-depth analysis, and ideas about international issues, technology, business, culture, and politics.  
According to Statista, the data provider based most of the responsible companies listed in their report on publicly available key performance indicators derived from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports, sustainability reports, corporate citizenship reports, and an independent survey.  
According to Havard Business School, CSR is an internal, and external-facing document companies use to communicate CSR efforts and impact the environment and community. 
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Koppers, and Beazer East Inc. ranked 178th in 2021 and placed in the top half of 399 companies making a list from a pool of 2,000 United States-based publicly traded companies, according to Nancy Cooper, editor and Chief of Newsweek.  
“The company ranked 30th overall in the social category and placed in the top 10 among Pennsylvania-based companies included,” according to the Cooper. 

This year, Koppers ranked 376th among the most responsible companies in the U.S, according to Nancy Cooper, editor and chief of Newsweek.  

McCutchen said she would like to know why Kopper’s ranking dropped because the difference within a year is interesting.   
McCutchen also said it is kind of cut and dry to say that a company gets awards for environmental and social responsibilities.  

“Like Germany, for example, I’ve never been there, but from what I’ve heard it’s a pretty groovy country…but that doesn’t negate the fact that there was a whole Holocaust that went on there.”  

McCutchen also said it might be excellent in Germany, but it has not always been like that.  
“So, with the Koppers Tie Plant…maybe they are currently doing excellent and in the past they didn’t and caused a lot of people to die,” McCutchen said.  
McCutchen said responsibility is broad. 
“Does this award actually mean anything?” McCutchen said. “Just because they get an award doesn’t mean that they’re actually doing a good job.” 
McCutchen also said Koppers Inc. thinks they are a responsible company and received an award that validates their being good. 
“Everyone who gets an award…everyone who gets to a certain level of leadership or prestige does not always deserve the award,” McCutchen said.  
McCutchen said there are people where the former Koppers plant operated and exposed the land to contaminants that are unaccounted for, allegedly exposed to creosote and dioxin.  
“That’s our truth,” McCutchen said.  
McCutchen also said several things used data and statistics to prove things.  
“It was used to prove that Africans were an inferior race for years,” McCutchen said. “You just can’t go off the data.” 
McCutchen said data guides decision-making and should not determine what it is.  
Koppers site Galesburg, Illinois  
The company operates 15 railroad and utility products and services across the U.S., including one in Galesburg, Illinois. 
According to the USEPA, the 105-acre Galesburg plant owned by Koppers is near a rural area along Illinois Route 41.   
The wood-treating facility treats green railroad ties with heat, pressure, creosote, and coal tar.  
Past operations have included pentachlorophenol (PCP) and fuel oil in the mix since 1907.  
Past waste disposal practices contaminated soil and groundwater at and around the site and have been under cleanup procedures.  
The Illinois EPA and the USEPA recently completed the 5-year review of the selected cleanup action for a contaminant list from 1989 until September 2020.  
“It included biological treatment to address contaminated soil and pumping and treatment for contaminated groundwater,” according to the USEPA. “Contaminated soil was excavated and successfully treated.” 
The completed reviews ensured these conducted remedies protect public health and the environment.  
“Risks and pathways addressed by the cleanup include health risks from people ingesting and touching contaminants in soil and groundwater,” according to the USEPA.  
There are currently no unacceptable human exposure pathways, and the EPA has determined the site is under control for human exposure, according to the USEPA.  
The USEPA also concluded that the migration stabilized contaminated groundwater, and there is no unacceptable discharge to surface water.  
Koppers mission 
According to Cooper, Leroy Ball, president and chief executive officer of Koppers, who made a public press statement, said the company acknowledges the importance of promoting fairness and respect to harness the best in themselves and those around them.  
“We value our role of being a responsible steward of the environment by minizing the potential impact that we can have on our world,” Ball said according to Cooper. 
Ball also said Koppers is steadfast in their belief that success will follow when we hold to our zero harm culture. 
Ball said this mission is achieved by placing the care and protection of their people, communities, and environment first.  
“Being recognized among the country’s most responsible companies is an honor and certainly an indicator of the commitment of our people to help create a more equitable and sustainable future,” Ball said according to Cooper.  
Core to the company’s guiding purpose of protecting what matters and preserving the future.  
Koppers centers its sustainability efforts around improving how it operates within the three pillars of people, planet, and performance, according to Cooper. 
In Carbondale, the Koppers site underwent cleanup procedures to ensure the same outcome as Galesburg.  
The company operates in North and South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. 


Published by Clarissa Cowley

Claire is a Master of Science in Professional Media and Media Management graduate student with a specialization in multimedia journalism. She currently teaches web publishing, media arts performance and introduction to media production. She is a student managing editor of the GJR weekly digital newsletter reaching over 2,000 online subscribers. She is conducting research on an environmental and racial justice issue in Carbondale, IL for her thesis project.

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