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Lawsuit seeking class-action status filed over Southern Ohio fuel spill in creek that killed wildlife

Lawsuit seeking class-action status filed over Southern Ohio fuel spill in creek that killed wildlife
Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 10:50 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 15, 2022 at 11:06 AM EDT
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CLINTON COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - A negligence lawsuit seeking class-action status was just filed over a large diesel fuel spill in a southern Ohio creek that killed thousands of wildlife.

Wilmington Resident Zachory Adams is listed as the lead plaintiff, individually and on behalf of all property owners and residents impacted by the environmental contamination in the Dutch Creek.

The suit estimates that to be more than 100 Clinton County residents.

Dutch Creek connects to the Todd Fork stream, which flows into the Little Miami River, which flows into the Ohio River.

The lawsuit names defendants R&L Carriers Inc. and two John Does connected with CT Corporation System.

Adams’ wife called the Wilmington Fire Department earlier this month when his family and their dog were playing in the creek and she noticed the fuel in the water and smell.

The diesel spill originated Thursday, March 3 in a tank at R+L Carriers when bolts were not properly secured on it when the tank was cleaned, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined.

The million-gallon tank held 188,000 gallons of fuel and 23,000 leaked out, killing up to 2,000 aquatic animals including fish, crayfish and frogs, according to the EPA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The creek containment zone is 3.5 miles long, says Clinton County Emergency Management Agency spokesman Duane Wade.

An official with the Clinton County Health Department has advised against fishing or swimming in the creek, saying: At this time, you don’t want to be in it.”

FOX19 NOW is reaching out to all parties and will update this story throughout the day.

R+L reported the leak through a mandatory reporting system on the evening of Saturday, March 5, which triggered a multi-agency response.

A “small army” descended upon the site, including Clinton County EMA, ODNR, the Ohio EPA, the US EPA, the Coast Guard, local fire departments and R+L.

A “large percentage” of the leaked fuel was “caught up” in the area around the tank, but some released into Dutch Creek a quarter-mile away, according to Steven Renninger, on-scene coordinator for the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Renninger could not say how much fuel got into the creek.

Eight containment sites in that zone contain a range of dams and booms to interrupt the water flow and absorb the fuel, he has said.

Water pumps powered by generators ensure the water at the sites keeps moving to prevent flooding. Vacuum trucks are also on-site to collect diesel floating on the surface.

Creekside residents are urged to “utilize common sense” and “stay away” from the creek, according to EMA Director Tom Breckel.

A sheen of diesel oil was seen as far away as Morrow, which is around 18 miles downstream from the spill location. The sheet is nonrecoverable.

He has said there is “no danger at this point” to public drinking water.

Still, intakes as far downstream as the Northern Kentucky Water District have been notified through the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) and are monitoring contaminant levels.

The suit says “ORSANCO is concerned that if the diesel fuel makes it into the Ohio River, the diesel fuel could be sucked into water treatment facilities that are used to supply drinking water.”

Some creekside residents use private water wells. If they suspect contamination, they can contact the Clinton County Health District to come out and take water samples.

Crews will be working at the creek for days to come, though the cleanup timeline is unclear.

R+L is paying for the cleanup, Reninger has said.

Any determination of legal culpability or fines against R+L will take place at a later date, he added.

The total cost is yet to be determined.

In addition to seeking class-action status, the lawsuit seeks:

  • Equitable relief compelling the companies to use “appropriate methods with respect to additional air and soil testing, restoration and abatement actions.”
  • Actual damages, compensatory damages, statutory damages, and statutory penalties, in an amount to be determined under the law.
  • Punitive damages.
  • Attorneys’ fees and costs, and any other expenses, including expert witness fees.
  • Pre- and post-judgment interest on any amounts awarded.
  • “Such other and further relief as this court may deem just and proper.”

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