More than 1,300 Eight Mile residents have complained of health effects related to a tert-Butyl mercaptan spill in 2008, as an environmental scientist criticized Mobile Gas’ mediation of it eight years later.
Wilma Subra, a scientist from Louisiana who travels the country to provide technical assistance to communities dealing with environmental health issues, said her data shows there’s a problem with the recovery wells Mobile Gas placed near the spill site.
In order to mitigate the spill, Mobile Gas is treating the water with ozone before releasing it back into the ground. The process is permitted by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
“In the discharge permit, they’re not required to meet a certain mercaptan concentration in the discharge water,” Subra said. “However, they’re required to sample along the surface stream and they know they still have residual mercaptan in what’s being discharged.”
Since the wells were put in, though, residents have complained that the smell of mercaptan, the odorized additive in natural gas, has gotten worse, Subra said. Mobile Gas should make changes to the way it’s handling the mitigation, she said.
“They either have a leak here, or it’s changing the way it’s flowing,” Subra said. “They need to change something. They need to identify specifically where it’s coming from and do something about it.”
Subra, who admitted Mobile Gas might not know there’s a problem, said the company should continue to monitor the situation, along with ADEM.
Mobile Gas spokeswoman Keeshia Davis said the company couldn’t make any comments due to pending litigation on the issue.
Glenn Wilson, who said he lives less than 500 feet from the leak site in Eight Mile, complained of several health effects related to mercaptan exposure, including cancer.
“I broke out in a red rash,” he said. “My doctor didn’t know what it was and I didn’t either. It finally went away, but I’ve been sick a lot the last couple years.”
Carletta Davis, president of We Matter Eight Mile community association, said Wilson is not alone and a number of people have complained of a variety of issues through the health surveys.
“We had an overwhelming response to the initial call for health assessments on the 15th and 16th, so we had to do an additional hour today for health assessments,” she said in an interview before a recent community meeting. “We sent those health assessments — we collected over 1,300 on the 15th and 16th — and we sent those up to the governor’s office and Dr. [Thomas] Miller, who is the head of the Alabama Health Department.”
Davis said she wasn’t surprised by the strong turnout during the health survey days.
“The community is really ready for something to be done about this,” she said. “So, they’re galvanized and they’re ready to do whatever it takes to make sure that our community is made whole again.”
The health effects, according to the survey results, include nosebleeds, headaches, severe respiratory problems, skin rashes and sore throats, Davis said.
“We are also taking an assessment of how many people have had cancer out here and how many people have passed away, because we believe there is a relation or correlation between the exposure of this chemical to the people who have cancer and have passed away,” she said.
Davis said she’s hopeful the strong results from the survey will bring the Alabama Department of Public Health and Gov. Robert Bentley’s office to investigate.