Massachusetts Gas Line Explosions Result In Class Action Lawsuit By Residents

According to allegations raised in a class action lawsuit against Columbia Gas, a series of gas explosions around Boston, Massachusetts were caused by a number of failures by the local utility, including antiquated gas lines, unsafe conditions and gas pressure that was 12 times higher than it should have been. 

The complaint was filed this week on behalf of 8,600 residents of the Merrimack Valley area of Massachusetts, which includes the towns of Andover, Lawrence and North Andover. Columbia Gas, and its parent company, NiSource, were named as defendants in the class action lawsuit, which seeks compensation for residents who were evacuated, but did not suffer injuries or damages.

The Massachusetts gas line explosions began last Thursday afternoon, with some estimates indicating that there were at least 80 homes that spontaneously erupted in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, Massachusetts. The one known fatality, involving Leonel Rondon, occurred when the man was killed after a chimney fell onto his vehicle. Dozens more were injured.

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Columbia Gas runs the natural gas system and was working on the lines at the time of the explosions. According to investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, the gas pressure in the lines was 6 pounds per square inch (psi) at the time of the blasts, and it should have been only 0.5 psi.

On Monday, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey sent a letter (PDF) to the CEOs of Columbia Gas and NiSource seeking answers as to why the incident occurred.

“We have requested a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee on this incident and we hope that you will cooperate fully and transparently with federal investigators,” the letter states. “We write to request that you provide us with information in order to help the American people understand why this terrible disaster occurred, whether the company was sufficiently prepared to respond to an incident of this magnitude, and how we can prevent any similar tragedy in the future.”

The senators’ letter notes that NiSource recorded the overpressure in a control room in Ohio before the blasts occurred, and seeks to know the sequence of events, what the company knew about the conditions of the lines and whether there were any pipeline irregularities reported before the explosions.

Columbia Gas serves 50,000 residents in the area, and its parent company, NiSource indicated on Tuesday that it is contributing $10 million to a disaster recovery fund for those affected by the blasts.

According to an incident update issued by Columbia Gas on September 18, the company is opening property claim centers on Wednesday in the three affected communities, indicating that monetary advances will be paid for initial claims for property loss, damage, food spoilage, evacuation expenses and childcare needs.

Residents unable to get to the centers can call 1-800-590-5571 to file a claim.

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