Eighteen families in a south-central Kansas neighborhood have filed a lawsuit accusing a pipeline company of contaminating their water, but the company denies the allegations and says it has been working with the state to address their concerns.
The lawsuit, filed in Sedgwick County District Court on behalf of homeowners in an area northeast of Andover, seeks $2.3 million in damages from San Antonio-based NuStar Pipeline Operating Partnership L.P. The case is scheduled for a jury trial in the summer of 2014.
NuStar has owned the pipeline since 2005, and denies the allegations. The company also maintains that residents have failed to show NuStar caused the contamination.
Gary Koegeboehn, vice president and general manager of the NuStar Central East Region, said in an email to The Wichita Eagle that NuStar has been working “cooperatively and proactively” with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to address the concerns of the property owners, whose health and safety “is a top priority.”
The lawsuit accuses NuStar of refusing to clean up contamination from a 1990 pipeline rupture in the backyard of the James and Keelie McCrays’ house.
The former homeowner of the McCray’s home in 1990 found what looked like gasoline in his yard and told the pipeline’s then-owner, Kaneb Pipe Line Operating Partnership. Kaneb said it removed the contaminated soil and repaired the pipeline. But the lawsuit says that more than two years later, the homeowner began to smell gas in the drinking water. Neighbors said the contamination from the McCrays’ backyard eventually spread to some of their yards.
The KDHE says a resident contacted its Wichita office about the rupture and contamination on Dec. 22, 1992. Sampling found benzene, classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a carcinogen, in the water and found that the pollution had spread to another home. Kaneb supplied bottled water to both homeowners and in 1993 installed a carbon filter at the home where the rupture occurred.
KDHE said sampling of the wells in 1995 and 2001 found no contamination. But the lawsuit says monitoring showed contamination in the neighborhood in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
KDHE and NuStar began a well-sampling program in the neighborhood in 2012 at the request of residents and found benzene and other petroleum hydrocarbon-related contaminants above allowable levels for drinking water at six homes. NuStar offered bottled water service to 12 homes and had carbon filtration systems installed on nine wells.
Koegeboehn also said the testing in January 2012 showed that the contamination “was not consistent with the products our pipeline carries” and not connected to the 1990 rupture. “In addition,” he said, “the contamination quickly disappeared. And recent sampling of these wells in 2013 has not detected contamination. In fact, there has been no detection of the contamination identified in early 2012 since May 2012.”
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