17 Mahomet-area residents file lawsuit over 2016 Peoples Gas leak

17 Mahomet-area residents file lawsuit over 2016 Peoples Gas leak

MAHOMET — A Champaign law firm filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Chicago utility Peoples Gas over a 2016 leak at natural-gas facility near the Mahomet Aquifer that contaminated private water wells.

Spiros Law filed suit in Champaign County Circuit Court on behalf of 17 plaintiffs from six homes, accusing Peoples Gas of negligence, consumer fraud and battery, among other things.

It seeks $50,000 in damages for each of the plaintiffs, plus punitive damages.

"In our opinion, Peoples Gas has shown no concern for the residents of central Illinois like our clients," James Spiros said in a news release.

The company already faces a lawsuit from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, which so far has resulted in a court order last October requiring Peoples Gas to identify the cause of the leak and ensure affected residents have safe drinking water.

Peoples Gas said it hadn't yet seen the complaint but provided the following statement from spokesman Brian Manthey: "What we can say is that the Illinois Department of Health has confirmed that the levels of methane we have detected in private wells do not pose a health concern. The water is safe for drinking and everyday use such as bathing and cooking. We are also offering bottled water and methane detection to affected homeowners."

Spiros's lawsuit alleges that there was a blowout on Oct. 28, 2015, at Peoples Gas' Manlove Field that wasn't discovered until Dec. 6, 2016, more than a year later.

At Manlove Field, natural gas is stored 4,000 feet underground, below the Mahomet Aquifer that provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of central Illinois residents.

Peoples Gas stores gas from Texas in Champaign County and ships it via pipeline to Chicago when needed, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also alleges that Peoples Gas lied to the U.S. Department of Transportation in its January 2017 incident report when it said there was a "pinhole" leak that only affected a radius of 139 feet.

Before that report was made, the lawsuit said, People Gas had received a lab report confirming natural gas had contaminated the drinking water at 94-year-old Elmer Fox's home, more than 1,500 feet away from where the leak originated.

The 148-page lawsuit also alleges that Peoples Gas received a lab report confirming contaminated water at Urbana firefighter Mike Wallace's home in Mahomet on March 29, 2017, but failed to notify him until April 26.

After being notified, Wallace called the Illinois Department of Public Health, the first time a government agency had been informed that the leak had contaminated water, according to the lawsuit.

Spiros Law has been seeking clients for a potential lawsuit against Peoples Gas since October, when it held a town hall meeting in Mahomet that 120 people attended.

At that meeting, Spiros outlined signs of contamination that included cloudy or milky water, tiny bubbles in the water, a film left on the body after taking a shower and flammable water.