Months Later, South Sioux City Residents Still Dealing With Sewer Gas Seepage

Months Later, South Sioux City Residents Still Dealing With Sewer Gas Seepage

Noxious sewer gasses forced more than two dozen families out of their homes in October of 2016, and at least 11 families from a suburban neighborhood in South Sioux City, NE have yet to return.

The issue began after a project intended to produce valuable methane gas and reduce sewer expenses for several major industries, but quickly turned into a dangerous situation after what was later determined to be hydrogen sulfide started flowing down sewer pipes. The chemical was traced back to a recently opened Big Ox Energy-run wastewater treatment facility.

Jonathan Goodier, one of the residents displaced by the gas leak stands in his temporarily abandoned home. Photo via Omaha World-Herald Report.

Hydrogen sulfide is an incredibly hazardous and highly flammable gas that can corrode metal and irritate eyes, noses and throats of people who come in contact with it. While a number of tests have shown that the city’s recent work building a new sewer line and installing valves to divert the flow of hydrogen sulfide away from the affected neighborhood has effectively stopped the seepage of gasses into these homes, the smell remains.

“What’s in there that makes my eyes burn? What gives me a headache after an hour?” said Mike Klassen, a resident who has been living out of a motel room for nearly three months. “Why has this gone on and on?”

These displaced families are still receiving reimbursement for their living expenses and lodging – Bix Ox has paid over $300,000 so far to cover these expenses – and cleaning crews have been hired to remove the odor from clothing, carpeting and furniture. Unfortunately for the residents who remain without a home, officials are still unclear as to why the smell remains.

“We’re still trying to find out what caused those residual smells,” commented Tina Mowry Hadden, a spokeswoman for the city. “I know it’s not fast enough for the residents, but everyone has been moving as fast as they can to find answers.”

The city plans to start a new round of testing this week. Previous tests have focused specifically on detecting hydrogen sulfide, but these new tests will look for 22 other sulfur compounds as the city continues to discover the continued cause of the smell. While residents are encouraged by this, they aren’t simply waiting around to hear back. Attorney David Domina of the Domina Law Group met with affected homeowners earlier this week to discuss possible litigation.

Officials were unable to give an estimated time that these people could return home, and Kevin Bradley from Big Ox Energy commented that while the company has reimbursed “reasonable” living and housing expenses of the residents affected by their plant’s gas leak, he could not say how long the company will continue to reimburse those forced out of their homes.

In addition to the months-long issues these homeowners have faced, they now need to worry about the value of the homes they hope to return to in the near future. According to Klassen and other residents, the copper water lines have turned black from corrosion, and question who would even consider buying their homes if they chose to sell in the future. Klassen commented that:

“If they can’t tell us what’s in our homes, they ought to just buy us out.”

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