EIGHT MILE, Ala. (WPMI) New depositions in a lawsuit against Mobile Gas reveal the company may have known a foul-smelling chemical was spilling into Eight Mile’s groundwater in 2008, but never reported it.
“That’s a red flag," attorney Rick Courtney, who represents Eight Mile residents, told Local 15, “When a pollutant gets into the groundwater it starts to spread out in the underwater aquifers.”
But Courtney said Mobile Gas never alerted the Alabama Department of Environmental Management or brought in engineers to evaluate and remediate the spill.
Years later, Eight Mile residents started complaining of a pungent odor resembling green onions and rotten eggs, but Mobile Gas insisted it was not coming from their operations.
It was only in April 2012 when state officials reported Mobile Gas had a mercaptan spill from a lightning strike in 2008. Mercaptan is the chemical added to odorless natural gas to give it a smell.
But in the months leading up to the lightning strike, company records show thousands of pounds of mercaptan were unaccounted for. In a deposition, a Mobile Gas employee told lawyers that tanks holding mercaptan in the area were emptying out rapidly and they kept refilling them.
Sometimes, more than a thousand pounds of mercaptan would disappear from a tank in a single week, but the employee thought there were “issues with the reading and recording” rather than a major leak.
In a separate deposition, contractors hired by Mobile Gas to clean up the spill days after the lightning strike said they were told the spill was only about 150 gallons.
The contractors started excavating soil and spraying it with deodorant. One of the contractors said the mercaptan odor was so strong, he could smell it through his respirator. Just three feet down, they hit groundwater.
“Groundwater means you have a big problem,” Courtney said, “You need to bring in engineers, do adequate sampling and testing.”
When a Mobile Gas employee overseeing the cleanup saw the groundwater, the contractor said the employee went to go make a private phone call, returned, and told him to stop digging.
“Mobile Gas filled up the hole that night without any engineers, sampling, testing, or reporting to ADEM,” Courtney said, “That’s why we’ve got such a bad problem now.”
The contamination has become so widespread, Eight Mile resident Jeremiah Hollins said there isn’t a single creek or pond around his house that doesn’t stink of mercaptan.
“It done moved to every wetland in this area,” Hollins said.
Hollins told Local 15 even gravediggers at the local cemetery dig up the smell.
“When they dig down about three feet, phwoosh, straight mercaptan comin’ out the ground,” Hollins said.
Hollins along with other frustrated residents feel like instead of fixing the problem in 2008, Mobile Gas simply covered it up and let it spread.
“They just sat on it, and felt like it would go away,” Hollins said, “Now bam! Look at the mess it done started.”