The scene was madness.
For an entire week starting Jan. 12, 2012, 70 residents were barred from their homes as hazardous materials teams cleaned up the 116,000 gallons of spilled gasoline from a ruptured Sunoco pipeline under the Wellington Township garage parking lot.
The break leaked the equivalent of 1,950 barrels of gas into the White Ditch and Black River.
Five years later, the Environmental Protection Agency is saying the damage to aquatic habitats and wildlife, combined with the dangers posed to residents along Brookside Drive and Peck Wadsworth Road, warrant legal action.
Federal attorney Lila Jones filed a civil suit March 31 in U.S. District Court in Cleveland on behalf of the EPA, seeking damages.
If Judge Christopher Boyko and a jury agree with the EPA’s complaint, Sunoco could be forced to pay nearly $2.15 million — that’s $1,100 for every barrel’s worth that contaminated local waterways.
The suit lays out the case: The Fostoria-Hudson pipeline ruptured, releasing benzene, toluene, and other hazardous chemicals, as well as causing an ignition risk.
As reported by the Enterprise, 30 homes were evacuated for seven days due to health concerns. The safe level of gas you can breathe is six parts per billion, the company said, and readings were at 65 parts per billion.
The Pennsylvania-based Sunoco operates 7,500 miles of liquid pipelines nationwide, including the 107-mile line through Wellington. The eight-inch-diameter pipe runs underground.
Installed in 1952, it had last been inspected in 2007, when a defect was discovered at the spot where the rupture would occur in 2012. The suit alleges Sunoco did nothing to address the defect.
A 30-inch break sounded alarms at 10:18 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2012, warning Pennsylvania monitors there was a problem. Four minutes later, automatic valve shutdowns started. Manual shutdowns were completed within about three hours.
David Justin, a spokesman for Sunoco Logistics, told a group gathered at Wellington High School in the disaster’s aftermath that pipelines are inspected every five years. The Fostoria-Hudson line was scheduled for inspection the following month.
The Ohio EPA, U.S. EPA, Lorain County hazmat, Lorain County Emergency Management Agency, and firefighters from Wellington, Oberlin, and Spencer were involved in clean-up efforts.
Meanwhile, the Red Cross set up a temporary shelter at town hall to protect residents displaced in the dead of winter. Sunoco paid for affected residents to stay in hotels if they had nowhere else to go.
Sunoco has since given thousands of dollars the past several years to fund the Dukes Pride Day Carnival and Well-Help food programs.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @EditorHawk on Twitter. Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.