The owners of a Speedway gas station in Westmont, IL were aware of a gasoline leak days before it caused explosions and fires in the neighboring area that injured two people and forced hundreds of others to be evacuated, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA). Alec Messina, the agency’s director, has asked the state attorney general’s office to take action against Speedway LLC for releasing gasoline into DuPage County’s sanitary sewer system.
Speedway became aware that a gasoline tank was leaking on October 16, but did not start pumping out the gas until October 19 and didn’t notify the IEPA until October 20, the day the leak set off fires and explosions in the surrounding area, according to the IEPA.
The Illinois EPA says Speedway officials knew of leaking gas tanks days before explosions and fires in Willowbrook. https://t.co/RDICrtPRY8
— Sun-Times Breaking (@CSTbreaking) October 24, 2017
Knolls Condominium Explosion in Willowbrook, IL
On Thursday, October 19, authorities received multiple reports of a foul smell including calls from the Knolls condominium complex, located in the 6100 block of Knollwood Road in Willowbrook, a mile away from the Speedway station. Authorities made three trips to the Knolls complex that night but could not find the source of the odor. The next morning, (October 20), 81-year-old Margaret Rice was doing laundry. When she put coins into the gas dryer, the machine exploded, injuring her and another person. The force of the blast threw Rice into the hallway, blew out one wall of the laundry room and separated a staircase from the back wall of the building. Burning debris started a fire in the corner of the laundry room. Rice suffered burn injuries and is hospitalized at Loyola University Medical Center where she is receiving care in the burn unit. First responders treated the other injured person at the scene.
High-Risk Group for Burns
People over 65 are in a high-risk group for burns and the complications that can arise from their treatment, according to a recent study called Management of burns in the Elderly published in the Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters. As we age, the skin’s healing process slows and with a delay in wound-healing comes the increased risk of infection and complications such as pneumonia, pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure, the authors found.
“Recovery from a burn injury can be a long road at any age,” said Fred Pritzker, an attorney who represents people who have been burned in accidents and injured in explosions. Fred and Eric Hageman are the lead explosion lawyers at Pritzker Hageman law firm, which represents clients nationwide with personal injury claims after a gas explosion.
Evacuations, House Fires and Manhole Explosions
The 32-unit Knolls condominium building was evacuated and restoration crews were called into to shore it up to prevent it from collapsing. It will be some time before resists are able to return. In the meantime, Speedway is arranging temporary housing for displaced residents.
Later that day. there were reports of house fires, sewer flashes and 14 manhole covers being blown off. One of the house fires occurred near the intersection of Tennessee Avenue and of 63rd Street. Authorities received more than 100 reports of gas odors.
Power and gas were cut to 70 homes in the area whose residents were evacuated. The contaminated sewer line was plugged and gasoline was drained from all tanks at the Speedway. On October 21, residents, except those living in the Knolls complex, were allowed to return to their homes.
Prior Problems with Leaking Tank at Westmont Speedway
This is not the first time the Westmont Speedway has had trouble with a leaking gasoline tank. According to the IEPA’s Leaking Underground Storage Tank Database, the station has reported leaks twice before, once in 2009, and then again 2016. The company is not sure how long the tank has been leaking this year, or what caused the leak.
Since 2013, IEPA has issued 5,699 citations for leaking underground tanks in the Greater Chicago area, according to an NBC 5 Investigates report. A Speedway spokesperson told NBC 5 that the company is cooperating with state and local authorities on the investigation of the incident. It has also created an “emergency response team” to work with residents and businesses in neighborhoods affected by the leak.