Residents and leaders in Eight Mile hope a new federal law will help provide relief from a putrid chemical additive to natural gas that has spoiled the area for more than eight years.
Prichard City Councilman Lorenzo Martin said the federal oversight is needed because he believes the Alabama Department of Environmental Management has been too lenient with Mobile Gas during the ongoing cleanup of methyl mercaptan, which leaked from a company facility in 2008.
“They allowed Mobile Gas to put the cleanup plans together and establish its own timeline,” Martin said.
Mobile Gas representatives told guests at a recent open house that the company began taking steps to clean up the leak in 2012, including the installation of two groundwater filtration systems.
“The system captures water from the springs near the old, abandoned Cochran Road in a tank where ozone is added to the water,” according to Mobile Gas. “Once treated, the water is released back into the environment.”
Keeshia Davis, a spokeswoman for Mobile Gas, wrote in an email that 56 people took a tour of the site at the open house. Martin said he felt the tour and the way Mobile Gas was handling the cleanup wasn’t appropriate.
“They’re looking at it in the wrong way,” Martin said. “It leaked into the soil. More of the soil needs to be remediated.”
The new federal law called the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which had overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate, updates a 1976 law allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to create a new system to evaluate and manage the risks associated with chemicals already on the market, among other things.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) voted in favor of the bill. In a statement Byrne said he’d continue to work with Martin and residents of Eight Mile to resolve the issue.
Martin said the leak and its cleanup should concern everyone in the area, as it’s also the highest point in Mobile County.
Mercaptan is a chemical used to give odorless natural gas its “rotten egg” smell. Residents have reported the odor at the leak site, as well as several alleged health effects from the mercaptan, said Carletta Davis, president of We Matter Eight Mile Community.
She said residents in the area have experienced dizziness, nausea, asthma and nosebleeds due to long-term exposure to the chemical. She added any existing problems residents had prior to the spill are exacerbated by the exposure.
In a statement released this week, Davis announced that a community health survey for Eight Mile residents exposed to mercaptan would take place Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon and 3-7 p.m. She said in previous community meetings 400 to 500 residents have shown up and she expects at least that many to take part in the survey.