Rural Mahomet homeowners worried about health effects of gas leak into wells

Rural Mahomet homeowners worried about health effects of gas leak into wells

MAHOMET — Nearly a year since the discovery of a natural-gas leak that contaminated several private wells in rural Mahomet, one affected homeowner who is still battling the problem worries about long-term health issues and impacts on property values in the area.

"It's just been a struggle, because there's not a lot of information on this sort of incident," said Derric Eisenmann, a farmer who lives north of Mahomet near Illinois 47. "We're treading into some muddy water. No one understands the long-term effects of what the gas in our water is doing to our kids and our property values."

In December, Peoples Gas, based in Chicago, discovered a natural-gas leak during a routine inspection of the 150 well heads used to inject or remove the gas in Manlove Field, a natural-gas storage facility about 4,000 feet below ground in the Mahomet area that supplies gas to the Chicago area, according to Brian Manthey, spokesman with Peoples Gas.

As a result, natural gas leaked into the freshwater Mahomet Aquifer — the major underground water resource for East Central Illinois — and contaminated the drinking wells of at least five area properties, according to a notice of violation issued in mid-September by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Eisenmann's home is one of those five.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is also involved and has been working in consultation with IDNR and the Department of Public Health, according to Kim Biggs with IEPA.

Manthey said testing by Peoples Gas confirmed that the natural gas in the five private wells came from Manlove Field, as opposed to naturally occurring glacial gas that also can be present.

The concentration in the water at the Eisenmann household was enough that they videotaped a butane lighter producing flames in the stream of water flowing from a faucet in their house.

The cause of the leak is unknown, according to Manthey.

"It's hard to tell what led to that," he said.

As for how much leaked, he said, "we don't think it was a lot."

Manthey said the company immediately took action to close that specific well head and then test to determine if the gas that leaked out had migrated farther than the field itself, which the testing did confirm.

The leak "was stopped within a short amount of time of discovering it," Manthey said.

But Matthew Duco with Spiros Law, which is representing four of the five property owners, said some of the homeowners noticed issues before December, like cloudy water, a sulfur smell, inconsistent water flow or a film on them after they took showers. Not knowing the cause, he said, homeowners eventually discovered gas in their water.

"They all went several months before they were able to figure out what was going on," Duco said. "The other important thing to note, all of the clients we have, they all contacted Peoples Gas about this issue initially. None were approached by Peoples Gas."

Manthey said that, to date, about 33 households have been approached by the company offering to test their wells, and many agreed to the testing, while others did not. So far, he said, tests have confirmed presence of Manlove natural gas in the five wells, and the company has offered bottled water and natural gas separators — which are commonly used to separate naturally occurring methane from water.

And, he added, company officials are still going to homes in the area for one-on-one contact about the leak.

But Duco said he finds disappointing the lack of information that has been shared by Peoples Gas and various state agencies, and Spiros Law is holding an informational meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the Newcomb Township Hall, 355 County Road 2700 North, Mahomet, for anyone who wants more information about this issue, especially property owners with wells.

Carol Hays, executive director of the Prairie Rivers Network, said her organization has questions and concerns with this leak and plans to have a representative at Monday's meeting.

"Any time the aquifer is threatened by any kind of harmful substance, we have concerns," she said, explaining that she would like to know exactly how much gas was leaked into the aquifer, how long the leak endured and more. "These are all questions that deserve answers, and the folks who live there should have access to make decisions about something as critical as their water."

Manthey said that while "some gas remained in the soil (after the leak was capped), it will dissipate over time, but possibly we will drill relief wells to get it out sooner."

He said there has been some confusion because of the naturally occurring glacial gas in the ground, which the company can distinguish through testing.

Duco said many questions remain as homeowners are still dealing with the presence of gas in their well water.

The firm is trying to get experts in this field to look into the situation for more analysis and to get more questions answered, according to Duco, who added that it's difficult to know how long this contamination will continue for some of the property owners.

"What we're trying to do quickly is get experts looking into this who are not Peoples Gas," he said. "It's good they're looking into this and doing testing, but they definitely should not be the only people doing it. We want people looking into this from the perspective of our clients and the other homeowners."

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