HUD to investigate discrimination complaint on Eight Mile chemical leak response

Natural gas pipeline marker in Eight Mile (Kati Weis, WALA)

It's a follow up to a 10-year controversy in the Eight Mile community of Prichard.

Local activists and politicians have announced the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is launching an investigation into a mercaptan chemical leak.

The announcement comes after residents filed a complaint with HUD back in October, alleging an affluent community in California got better treatment than Eight Mile when the same type of chemical spill occurred.

"We want to see justice served to the community members, who have suffered under this oppressive chemical for 10 years," said local resident Carletta Davis.

The investigation will examine local gas company, Spire, formerly Mobile Gas, a Sempra Company, and how it handled a 2008 tert-butyl mercaptan spill.

Mercaptan is a stinky chemical put in natural gas so you can tell if there's a gas leak.

Those who filed the complaint allege 4,500 residents have been affected by the 2008 incident.

"At the height of the spill, my oldest daughter was having terrible headaches and nausea," said Davis.

To this day, residents said they can smell traces of the chemical contaminating nearby soil.

They also said after a similar mercaptan spill occurred in California back in 2015, a predominantly white community got a swift resolution.

"After only 12 weeks, their solutions came, people were relocated, they were compensated, but yet we have a 10 year struggle, people are still living in the same homes, paying the same mortgages, smelling the same gas, experiencing the same central organ failure issues," explained Dr. Will Boyd, a candidate for Lt. Governor, who attended Friday morning's news conference announcing the investigation.

The investigation could take several months to complete, but local politicians said they won't back down until it's resolved.

"So, when you go outside, you should definitely have clean outdoor air, this is the United States of America," said State Senator Vivian Figures, (D) Mobile.

Next week, two important community meetings are going to be held to collect data for the HUD investigation.

If you were affected by the mercaptan spill, you need to attend one of these meetings, they will be next Tuesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. at Highpoint Baptist Church in Eight Mile.

Bring any and all documents you may have to support your claim.

FOX10 News also received a comment from Spire, it reads in full:

"At Spire, we care about all the communities we serve. We acquired Mobile Gas two years ago. Since that time, we’ve been working with ADEM on remediation and this morning’s press conference doesn’t change that. There continues to be no odor reported by ADEM.For a quick backstory, in June 2008, a lightning strike hit a pipe that contained mercaptan. This pipe was part of an odorization station that adds mercaptan into natural gas. Mercaptan is a safe product that has been used to odorize natural gas for nearly 100 years so that the smell can quickly alert anyone to a potential leak. The soil around this leak was removed immediately. However, some mercaptan escaped and unknowingly traveled from the soil near the leak into the groundwater. Because this happened underground, the mercaptan smell was not noticeable until groundwater began to surface at a nearby spring in 2011. There was no natural gas leak associated with this event – only a leak of mercaptan.As soon as Mobile Gas was made aware of the situation, we took action. First, technicians and engineers worked to repair the damaged pipe and then worked in cooperation with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to investigate groundwater and to install two ground water remediation systems near Eight Mile to remove mercaptan from the groundwater. These systems use ozone to destroy mercaptan in the water. One system treats groundwater that surfaces naturally at the spring. The other is a system of deep wells that pumps groundwater to the surface to be treated.You can find all the ADEM odor reports here: with file number 16594, and select the water box. The most recent odor patrol report shows no odor at any location."

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Investigative Reporter

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