MUNCIE – For years, the owners of a former gasoline station failed to warn a neighbor that the ground water and soil beneath his house was contaminated with gasoline, a lawsuit alleges.
Jeffery Wray, a computer technician at Ball Memorial Hospital, complains in the lawsuit that gasoline vapors entering his basement from leaking underground storage tanks (LUSTs) forced him out of his home at 1821 S. Walnut St.
“The fumes were so bad I got a headache after visiting for 30 minutes,” said Wray’s attorney, Joey Davis.
Since 1988, approximately 6,300 LUST sites have been cleaned up in Indiana, according to Barry Sneed, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. “The LUST section is working to address about 2,400 more sites contaminated by leaking tanks. In addition, about 200 new leaks and spills are reported every year.”
There are currently about 250 active LUST sites in Blackford, Delaware, Henry, Jay and Randolph counties, according to an IDEM database.
IDEM is overseeing cleanup of the site next door to Wray’s house. The agency hasn’t taken enforcement action against the responsible party, Sneed said, because “they’ve been working cooperatively with our staff to conduct the required environmental studies and submit remediation work plans for our review.”
He added: “The responsible party has informed our staff that they are working to purchase the neighboring property. If this property is purchased, the responsible party may modify their remediation work plan.”
The cleanup plan includes the removal of 3,220 tons of contaminated soil.
The lawsuit names Portland-based Jay Petroleum, which operates three dozen Pak-A-Sak convenience stores throughout East Central Indiana and West Central Ohio; Sunoco, a leading manufacturer of petroleum and petrochemical products; and the estate of Kathryn McMahon.
Jay Petroleum and Sunoco deny the allegations and filed cross claims blaming each other for the spread of the contamination, not only to Wray’s residence but also to Aunt Millie’s Thrift Store, a bakery at 101 W. Memorial Drive.
Sunoco operated a gasoline station at the northwest corner of Memorial and Walnut from 1953 until 1982, and Jay Petroleum operated the gasoline station from 1982 through 1988.
Jay Petroleum began assessing the site in 2001, when its engineering consultants detected total petroleum hydrocarbons in soil samples.
“At no point subsequent to the tests … did anyone from either defendants, or even from IDEM, communicate the findings to plaintiff,” alleges the lawsuit filed in Delaware Circuit Court 1. “In fact, it was not until plaintiff requested the assistance of counsel recently with respect to worsening smells of gasoline in his basement and house that plaintiff learned this his property, including its soil and ground water, are contaminated.”
A ground water sample from a monitoring well just outside Wray’s basement detected benzene levels of 4,160 parts per billion. IDEM requires closure of residential properties when benzene levels reach 5 ppb.
Wray’s father, who died of cancer in 1993, and Wray’s mother, who died of cancer in 2002, both lived at the house for many years, according to the lawsuit. In addition, the couple’s dog died of cancer in 1999. Wray’s aunt, who also lived in the house for several years, died of cancer last year.
Exposure to benzene can cause cancer.
“Given plaintiff’s family history, the knowledge of the soil and ground water contamination at his house, the death of a family pet, and the total lack of reasonable response and communication on the part of the defendants, plaintiff has been forced out of his family house for fear of his own health,” the lawsuit alleges.