KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Two weeks after a steam line failure caused debris to rain down on neighborhoods nearby, Eastman Chemical Company has been sued over the incident.
The class action lawsuit filed on behalf of several Kingsport residents accuses the chemical company of trespass, negligence, strict liability, and being a “public and private nuisance.”
Knoxville-based Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman law firm filed the suit in Sullivan County Circuit Court Monday.
After the steam line failure on Jan. 31, Eastman reported that some of the debris that rained down on the surrounding neighborhoods could have been asbestos, but the chemical company said it wasn’t in harmful amounts.
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Spokesperson Kim Schofinski wrote in an email to News Channel 11 that reports studied by the department “do not indicate any immediate risk to the public.”
Attorney Billy Ringger told News Channel 11 the firm feels this lawsuit is out of concern for the homeowners who could be impacted, nevertheless.
“I’m from Knoxville, but I care very much about Kingsport and consider that my community,” Ringger said. “It’s about helping our community and it’s about specific people who are damaged by this.”
The lawsuit alleges that some residents in the immediate area surrounding the Kingsport chemical plant claimed they experienced headaches, nausea, and skin rashes following the incident.
“The question of whether some exposure to a toxin has caused a particular medical condition is something that we at Milberg specialize in and are very qualified to do, but right now it’s far too early to tell,” Ringger said.
According to Ringger, a nuisance is when a person or an entity has acted in a way that essentially troubles the peaceful enjoyment of one’s property.
“In fact, the people who live there in Kingsport and live next door to Eastman have a right to enjoy their properties, you know, in the way that they see fit and should be free from having that interrupted in some way in this case through the explosion causing toxic substances such as asbestos to rain onto your properties,” he said.
In a report to TDEC, Eastman detailed that up to 1,800 pounds of volatile organic compounds were released after the steam line failure on Jan. 31. It contained primarily methanol, which the National Library of Medicine says can be toxic to humans.
“As of right now, the only case that exists is the class action that has been filed on behalf of the property owners who live in close proximity, but we see more on the horizon,” Ringger said.
Ringger said that he could not say how many plaintiffs have signed onto the class action lawsuit.
“A class action lawsuit is filed on behalf of numerous similarly situated plaintiffs who have been wronged or who have sustained damages in some way because of the wrongful conduct of some entity, in this case, we allege that Eastman Chemical Company has committed some form of tortuous conduct,” he said.
Ringger maintained that his law firm hopes to help the community, as Eastman did when teams were deployed to decontaminate properties.
“We’re here not to throw stones at Eastman, we’re here to help those residents who need legal representation immediately to protect their legal rights,” Ringger said. “We acknowledge the many great things Eastman has done for this community and for the world and that the world needs chemicals like Eastman produces, and we’re here because when something like this happens, people need the type of representation that we can provide.”
Eastman officials told News Channel 11 they could not comment on pending legal matters, but that they “remain committed to working with our community through this situation to the best extent possible.”
Eastman added that the one part of its plant that was impacted the most is usually shut down for four weeks starting in late March for maintenance. But because of the steam line failure, it had to start that shutdown sooner than usual.
Ringger said those who feel they were similarly impacted to the plaintiffs already listed in the lawsuit, can call the Milberg law group at (865) 247-0080 or visit its website.
The Milberg law firm hosted a town hall meeting in Kingsport to meet with local residents and discuss concerns where attorneys were joined by Dr. Angela Hind, a physician, and environmental consultant.
“We’ll continue to speak with local residents there in the Kingsport area, and hopefully can continue to help them all individually. Now, a class action doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has to be actively engaged with the case. In fact, that’s one of the benefits of doing it in that way. But we believe that clients should contact our law firm if they are concerned about the diminution or devaluing of their property values in some way because of this spill or if they are experiencing symptoms as a result of this spill,” Ringger said.