MAHOMET — It was like a scene out of the film "Erin Brockovich."
About 120 people squeezed into Newcomb Town Hall on Monday evening to hear attorneys from Spiros Law talk about the threat to water from a natural-gas leak that contaminated several private wells.
Meanwhile, staff members from the law firm took down the names and addresses of the attendees. Spiros Law is already representing four families with contaminated wells.
Another 80 or so people who couldn't get in the town hall waited outside for a second information session presented right after the first one.
Several residents reported that Chicago-based Peoples Gas, which operates the natural-gas wells, had hung or taped fliers at mailboxes earlier Monday.
"The fliers had their version of the facts," said Herb Stauffer, one of the recipients.
And state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, told The News-Gazette that the Department of Natural Resources referred the case to the Illinois Attorney General's Office last week.
"My goal is to get the attorney general to file against Peoples Gas," Rose said. "She can force an independent analysis and engineering study of what happened and who is impacted by it. I am urging her to do that so we can get some facts. This is screaming for an independent analysis."
James Spiros, founding partner of Spiros Law, said the gas was stored in natural formations in a 37-square-mile field about 4,000 feet below ground in an area north of Mahomet.
"Peoples Gas has about 150 wells in this field, but not all of these wells are in service," Spiros said.
The gas wells pass through the Mahomet Aquifer to reach the surface, he said.
According to Spiros, at least five water wells have been contaminated by the natural gas. He explained several signs of methane contamination in well water, including:
— Water spurting or spitting from pipes.
— Cloudy or milky water.
— Tiny bubbles in the water.
— A film or residue left on the body after taking a shower.
— Flammable water.
"The gas is not treated with an odor agent. You can't see it, and you can't smell it," Spiros said.
Possible risks from the contamination, according to Spiros, include explosions, fires, asphyxiation, health risks (including rashes, nausea and nosebleeds) and possible soil damage.
He said earlier this year, a doctor advised a resident "not to bathe in the water because it is unsafe."
In mid-September, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources issued Peoples Gas a notice of violation.
Spiros told his audience that several questions remain unanswered, including:
— When did the leak first start and how long did it go unnoticed? While Peoples Gas reportedly first discovered the problem on Dec. 6, 2016, when one of its employees noticed natural gas at ground level near one of its wells, Spiros said some homeowners began noticing cloudy, spurting water coming from their taps as early as September 2016.
— Why did it take a visual observation on the surface to detect the leak?
— What caused the leak? Spiros said one report Peoples Gas issued cited "equipment failure," but did not elaborate.
— Why were homeowners not immediately notified?
— Can the contaminated fresh water be remediated or even contained?
Meanwhile, Spiros Law has set up a website — MahometGasLeak.com — to provide information on new developments.
Attendees had mixed views of the proceedings.
"I'm concerned," said area resident Elmer Gibson. "I had a kidney transplant 11 years ago, I had a bad accident 10 years ago, and I'm afraid of a lot of stuff."
"I think Peoples Gas will do what they need to to do what's right," said Cindy Giertz of Mansfield. "I think they will do their due diligence."