Transformer Oil Spill Update 2015

by Daisy

Thank you for visiting Little House in the Suburbs. If you like what you see, please SUBSCRIBE.


The transformer lid I'm glad didn't land on my head

The transformer lid I’m glad didn’t land on my head

If you’ve been following the saga of the transformer oil spill in my garden, there have been a few developments since last I wrote on this topic.

If you haven’t heard about it and would like to know what I’m referring to, you can read about it here and here and here.

The latest is that on March 30, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) issued the local utility whose transformer exploded in my yard (MLGW), an order requiring them to clean up. If they don’t, TDEC will hire a third-party to remediate the site and will send the bill to MLGW.  TDEC gave them a deadline to submit a plan for proceeding and said if they didn’t comply, they would be subject to fines.

When I checked with TDEC after that deadline to see what was up, it turns out I was wise not to break out the champagne.

MLGW retained one of the big, venerated, local law firms to represent them in this matter, you know, the little matter of please-just-come-get-your-oil-off-my-lawn-already? That matter. The lawyer said: “While MLGW does not agree with the Division’s determination, as reflected in the March 30 letter, at this point MLGW is willing to engage in further discussions with the Division.”

Willing to engage in further discussions??

I wish I could know why they want to hire a lawyer and spend more than it would take to remediate my soil to fight TDEC on this.  Forget lawyers fees–they’ve already probably spent more on just laboratory fees getting soil testing than it would take to clean up my garden. What are they so afraid of?

Does it have something to do with some greater potential can of worms they fear would get opened? Setting a precedent of an admission of responsibility for cleaning up toxic oil in people’s yards? Surely this doesn’t happen with such frequency that it would cause significant hardship to the utility company to clean up their transformer oil explosion spills? From an ethics standpoint, shouldn’t they do so anyway?

I don’t think a public utility does things out of pure stubbornness. They’re not guided by emotion. They’re guided by the bottom line. There has got to be some logic here that I’m missing, because right now I can’t see how this adds up. Spending more money to fight something than it would cost to do the right thing doesn’t make fiscal sense.



Disclaimer: This post may contain a link to an affiliate.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Deborah April 29, 2015 at 7:53 am

I am so sorry this has happened to you. This does concern me as we have a transformer in a corner of our garden area. I have known for years that these companies are about the $$$. Many, many years ago, a man was working for a power company replacing lights in a sports field. This man fell from the pole, and was promised he would have a job for life a d they would pay his medical bills and everything else. He signed a paper saying he wouldn’t sue, but they didn’t do what they said. Medical bills weren’t paid, and he had no job. Needless to say, I learned not to sign anything until well after the fact.

Nancy April 29, 2015 at 9:59 am

How sad that (1) MLGW CAN choose to do this and (2) that they are doing it. Why not just do the right thing? So sorry that you are having to put up with this, and that they are effectively stealing your yard, or at least severely limiting the enjoyment you get from it. 🙁

Daisy April 29, 2015 at 6:15 pm

Nancy–I appreciate the support. I’m beginning to think MLGW can do practically whatever it pleases, and is capable of disturbing things. Passing off PCB-contaminated oil as uncontaminated and selling it for a profit? Storing unlabeled PCBs in facilities which drain into the municipal storm water system? Got my attention.

Daisy April 29, 2015 at 6:18 pm

Deborah–Thank you. I had no idea my transformer was capable of this before it happened. That’s a sad story. I wonder how a person can justify that sort of thing to themselves.

Lena R April 29, 2015 at 8:50 pm

I was actually thinking of you the other day, Daisy, and wondering how you’re doing. Glad that you’ve updated us but really frustrated with your status quo. My guess is that they’re trying to avoid a precedent.

Perhaps the one thing you can do is go to TV stations, get a petition, work social media to point out the unfairness in MLGW’s actions.

Sending you lots of energy.

Bonnie North April 30, 2015 at 6:05 am

Hi Daisy,

Thank you for the update, and it’s so disgusting that this situation remains unresolved. I agree that a media blitz may help, but I can understand if that is too exhausting to try.

How about starting a petition? is an effective online petition site, an you are an excellent writer so you can write a compelling statement to elicit many signatures (literally, thousands).

Also, has the EPA been contacted? The local health department? I’m wondering if other agencies can intervene to help you.

Finally, and I hate to ask this, but do you have a lawyer representing you? Perhaps you could find one who can take your case on contingency, where you don’t pay unless and until there is a judgement.

As for what MLGW may be trying to hide, what have been the results of all these soil tests? If you don’t have access right now, your lawyer could subpoena all the information about your spill. It might reveal things you need to know, and explain the behaviour of the utility company. I feel so sorry that you are going through this, and I hope that it resolves to your benefit soon.

Anita April 30, 2015 at 7:44 am

If the yard isn’t cleaned up in time for this year’s growing season, they should pay you for this loss as well. Alternatively, you could have the yard cleaned up and then sue them for what you spent. No matter what you choose, be sure to get your own attorney.

R Riddle April 30, 2015 at 9:14 am

Try conacting and see if they offer a mushroom spawn to clean up your yard…good luck.

Christy April 30, 2015 at 6:33 pm

Daisy – I’m so sorry this happened to you. Not only should they clean up your yard, but they should replace all your organic perennials and veggies. This just doesn’t pass the smell test, there has to be something else going on. This will sound stupid but the first thing I thought of when I read your story was Erin Brockovich. I know she’s a famous movie character portrayed by Julia Roberts, but she’s actually a real person who’s a consumer advocate fighting big companies on environmental issues just like what’s happened to you. Not necessarily suggesting you call her (she does have a website), but I really think you need to contact an environmental lawyer or advocate that can help navigate this. These companies need to learn that they cannot keep polluting our environment and brushing it under the rug. Good luck!

Daisy April 30, 2015 at 10:11 pm

Christy–Thank you. I may never understand their motivation, but it doesn’t stop me from being concerned and curious. I’d love to have an Erin Brockovich on my side, but most all of the so-called environmental attorneys in town seem to be either uninterested or work with MLGW and have a conflict of interest. I wonder if the environmental lawyers got into the business of environmental law intending to work for corporations to help defend them from environmentalists, or if it just works out that way most of the time?

Daisy April 30, 2015 at 10:14 pm

R Riddle–Thanks for your suggestion. I’d love a solution like that, and I’ll push for it, but the remediation people who would likely be contacted by TDEC probably have less cutting edge methods for a job like this.

Daisy April 30, 2015 at 10:16 pm

Anita–That’s true. They’ve stalled for a full year now, and the second year’s crop is in jeopardy, too. Sadly, I can’t find an attorney in town who doesn’t want to mess up their relationship with MLGW, and I couldn’t afford their rates if I could find one. Maybe TDEC won’t give up and will hold MLGW to the order in spite of the opposition.

Daisy April 30, 2015 at 10:25 pm

Hi Bonnie, I’ve considered a petition. I guess I keep hoping this will get worked out peaceably. I did contact the EPA, and am working with the local branch, TDEC. I don’t know about the health department–they’d probably refer me to TDEC. I think all the environmental lawyers in town have at one time been retained by MLGW and I suppose the most financially advantageous position for them is representing corporations AGAINST environmentalists, not the other way around. The test results showed high levels of EPH, or extractable petroleum hydrocarbons, above the level acceptable in residential soil. I have these test results. I’m not sure what the basis of their latest refusal is, but I’ll report on it when I find out.
Thank you so much for your concern, and all you’ve done to help.

Daisy April 30, 2015 at 10:28 pm

Lena R–Thank you for your thoughts. I’m getting a disproportionate amount of pushback. We’ll see how this goes–need that energy!

craig May 7, 2015 at 4:22 pm

I work for a company that is contracted by a utilities company to clean up these spills. I think you hit the nail on the head when you guessed the power company didn’t want to set a precedent. These spills happen more often than you would believe and for all kinds of reasons, from too much power usage during hot or cold weather to storm events. It happens often enough in the Pacific Northwest to keep me and several other geologists employed year round. It will get expensive for them if they finally admit they are responsible for the clean up. As far as dangers, transformers manufactured before 1979 may contain small quantities of PCBs but its getting increasingly unlikely to find those kind. The only real likely danger is that the mineral oil tends to cling to soil and roots and it repels water, causing the plants to die. All we really do to clean it up is remove all the impacted dirt and vegetation then turn in samples to the lab to verify we got it all. The utility workers replace the dirt we took and the removed dirt is taken to specially prepared landfills for safe disposal. I am on the opposite side of the country from you but over here, it is the power companies responsibility to clean up the spilled oil. I hope you get It figured out.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: