Missouri Rep. Brandon Ellington on Friday called out two state agencies for “refusing to talk to constituents” who have been affected by fumes from a nearby gas station leak on the East Side.
The Kansas City Democrat singled out the attorney general’s office and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Both are involved in a lawsuit against Zill, which owns the Inner City Oil station near East 31st Street and Cleveland Avenue.
The lawsuit is aimed at compelling Zill to fix the problem.
Both agencies refuted Ellington’s statements.
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Leaking underground tanks at the gas station have contaminated the city’s sewer system and created health problems for the residents, Ellington and residents said at Friday’s news conference.
Ellington said worries about the gas fumes date to 2006.
The legislator and residents gathered on a sidewalk across from the gas station to express their concerns, chief among them a feeling of being forgotten by the state agencies.
“It’s just been an ongoing problem and no one has done anything,” Wylie Scruggs said. “So we are just trying to see if we can get the right people out to do the right thing.”
Scruggs works at an auto shop adjacent to the gas station. He said the contamination has harmed everyone from kids to businesses.
Neither representatives from Zill nor its attorney could be reached for comment.
Mark Murphy, a resident who lives near the gas station, said, “You can walk down this street and smell it.” Department of Natural Resource employees have been to his home to investigate the smell of gas, he said.
Byron Smith said he can smell the fumes where he works, which is five blocks north of the gas station.
“I want everybody to get equal justice because we are a family,” he said. “We watch for each other because we know nobody is watching out for us.”
The Missouri attorney general’s office said it would prefer to meet with constituents after the court rules on pending motions. Most recently, Attorney General Chris Koster’s office filed a motion for a summary judgment.
“Representative Ellington appears to be unaware of the facts,” according to a statement from Koster’s office.
The statement cited the lawsuit and the injunction ordering Zill to fix the problem as actions the office has taken.
Nanci Gonder, press secretary for the attorney general, said in an email that the court ordered testing of Zill’s tanks and that leaks were found in one tank. The leaking tank was emptied and hasn’t been used since.
Additionally, Koster and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver visited the gas station and talked with people in the area in September 2015.
On Friday, Ellington repeatedly referred to the Koster site visit as “a PR stunt.” Koster, a Democrat, is running for governor.
“The congressman and attorney general walked this area, so they know how to get to Kansas City,” Ellington said, eliciting some laughs.
Ellington said the community wants answers and information. He said he asked the Department of Natural Resources to explain the situation and where the contamination is. He also wants the attorney general’s office to explain to the people their rights.
According to a timeline provided by the Department of Natural Resources, department staff has been at the site nine times in the last year.
An incident report cataloging the steps taken by the agency shows staff members responding to community concerns. They have provided housing to people while officials inspected homes where people have complained of gas fumes. The most recent complaint was June 8.
But the community is still worried about the fumes.
Mary Johnson has lived in the area for 44 years and said she is concerned about the effect the fumes might have on her grandchildren.
“I don’t understand why they can’t do something about it,” Johnson said.