150 families sue over Jackson-area pipeline spill
Source: http://www.equities.com, December 4, 2012
By: Don Behm, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
One hundred fifty families in Washington County are seeking compensation for property, health and emotional damage from the owner and operator of a fuel pipeline that spilled gasoline July 17 in a farm pasture in the Town of Jackson.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in Washington County Circuit Court, the families also are asking West Shore Pipe Line Co. of Arlington Heights, Ill., and Buckeye Partners L.P. of Breinigsville, Penn., and Houston, to establish a medical monitoring fund that would screen area residents for cancer.
Habush, Habush & Rottier S.C. in Milwaukee and the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos in Baltimore are representing the families in the lawsuit. The families are asking for a jury trial.
West Shore owns a 650-mile fuel distribution system within Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. Pipelines extend from East Chicago, Ind., around Chicago to Milwaukee and Green Bay. A separate line runs from the Chicago area to Janesville and Madison.
“We do not comment on ongoing litigation,” said Patrick Hodgins, director of health, safety, security and environment for Buckeye Partners.
“We remain focused on the successful remediation of the spill and working with local authorities on a long-term solution to the water needs of the community,” Hodgins said in a statement.
A section of 10-inch pipe in the company’s Milwaukee to Green Bay line ruptured along a welded seam July 17 in the 1800 block of Western Ave. in the Town of Jackson. An estimated 54,600 gallons of gasoline spilled within a few minutes in a farm pasture on one of the highest points in eastern Washington County.
The pipeline was built in 1961.
“As early as 1988, the U.S. Department of Transportation had warned that pipelines like this one, using electric resistance weld construction techniques, were subject to seam failure and required careful inspection and maintenance to avoid spills,” said Dan Rottier, an attorney and president of Habush, Habush & Rottier.
For that reason, the law firms are seeking access to pipeline testing and maintenance records, Rottier said.
The lawsuit seeks compensation for reduced property values, costs of providing a new safe water supply, lost profits and interference with local businesses, as well as mental anguish and loss of use of properties and reduced quality of life.
The lawsuit also asks the circuit court to award punitive damages against the companies for failing to prevent the spill and as a deterrent against similar conduct in the future.
At the time of the spill, the half-century-old pipeline system north of the Granville terminal and pump station in Milwaukee County was pumping gasoline at the established maximum operating pressure. As a condition of reopening the line, federal regulators ordered the companies to reduce operating pressure by 20%.
Exposure to gasoline and its toxic ingredients, particularly benzene, can cause illness and increase the risk of cancer, according to the lawsuit.
Members of families named in the lawsuit already have suffered nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other ill health effects, the lawsuit says. Additional families are expected to join the lawsuit.
There is less than 4 feet of soil atop fractured bedrock at the spill site. That was not enough dirt to absorb the fuel and it went down into cracks in the dolomite bedrock.
The bulk of the fuel probably followed two major fracture patterns, one to the northwest and one to the southwest.
Tests have detected contaminants in a total of 27 residential drinking water wells and two nonresidential wells since the spill. Those wells are located within a revised drinking-water advisory area designated by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Contaminant levels fluctuate in the wells. As of Monday, West Shore reported tests detected benzene in 17 of the 29 wells.
Homeowners in the drinking water advisory area are advised to continue to use bottled water or water from a known safe source for drinking, cooking, making ice and food preparation, DNR officials said.
The area extends along Western Ave. and Mill Road, between county Highway G and Maple Road, and into subdivisions on Wildflower Lane, Mockingbird Drive and Hummingbird Drive. A section of Sherman Road, from Maple Road to one-half mile east of Maple Road, is included in the advisory.
West Shore is providing bottled water to residents of the advisory area. The company also has installed dual carbon filters in 73 homes with private wells close to the spill.
Any private well owners within a two-mile radius of the spill should notify the DNR if they smell a petroleum odor in their water, according to DNR officials.
West Shore is pumping contaminated groundwater and gasoline vapors out of special wells. The water is treated to remove gasoline and then discharged to a ditch draining to Cedar Creek. Vapor is piped into an oven where contaminants are heated and destroyed.
The mobile treatment system is parked on the rear lawn at the Patrick and Sally McComis property, immediately west of the spill site. The McComis family has not returned to the home since the spill.
On Monday, the family sold the property to West Shore as part of a settlement with the company, Patrick McComis said.
West Shore has hired Arcadis U.S. Inc., an engineering consulting company with an office in Milwaukee, to do a feasibility study of options for a new water supply for residents closest to the spill.
Extending Village of Jackson municipal water to those residents is one of the options being considered. A draft feasibility report is expected in January.