by Gregg MacDonaldStaff Writer
Washington Gas has agreed to replace copper lines throughout a Chantilly neighborhood and pay Virginia a six-figure penalty stemming from a explosion in 2010, but the settlement will not compensate the homeowner’s whose loss launched the investigation.
In the agreement between the company and the State Corporation Commission, Washington Gas neither admits or denies violating safety standards. The company has been directed to undertake several safety improvements, including the replacement of all copper service lines in the Brookfield Community where the explosion occurred.
As of Dec. 20, 2010, charred debris was all that remained of Thuan Nguyen’s two-story home in the 4300 block of Lees Corner Road. No one was hurt in the explosion as the Nguyen family was out at the time.
A subsequent investigation and report of the accident by the SCC’s Division of Utility & Railroad Safety cited nine alleged violations of the commission’s gas pipeline safety standards against Washington Gas.
The report states the gas service line under Lees Corner Road leading to Nguyen’s home experienced severe corrosion that resulted in a major gas leak.
However, the report also states that alone is not enough to prove culpability for the explosion on the part of Washington Gas because it cannot be proved that a 1-inch diameter gas fuel line that “terminated on the second floor of the [Nguyen] residence” had been properly capped.
According to the report, the end threads of that fuel line were tested after the explosion for the presence of pipe thread sealant; none was found.
Representatives of the SCC and Washington Gas announced the settlement May 24 during a public forum in the neighborhood.
“We turned over every stone we could,” said Massoud Tahamtani, director of SCC’s Division of Utility & Railroad Safety. “What we found is that there were two sources of the potential leak; one under Washington Gas’s control and one under the homeowner’s control.”
According to SCC safety manager Shane Ayers, Washington Gas will be pay a penalty of $154,800 to the state, with an additional $219,700 due if the remedial actions set forth in the order are not met.
“We’ve got over 200 lines to replace in this neighborhood,” said Steve Price, Washington Gas spokesman.
“So if you don’t think the explosion was caused by faulty copper lines, why all this work?” Nguyen asked during the public forum.
“The corrosion rate for copper pipes is greater than other materials like steel,” Stabler replied. “It is rare to see corrosion and we only see two corrosions per year on average. We will take this opportunity to replace older copper lines in this neighborhood. ”
Before the explosion, county tax records listed the value of Nguyen’s home at $391,000.
After the explosion, Nguyen and his family lived for a year-and-a-half in a nearby rental property.
The family recently built a new home on their original property, but their homeowner's insurance company reimbursed only $216,000 — the limit of the insurance policy.
"We paid for the rest of the new home out of our own pocket," Nguyen said, adding he and his family like the Brookfield neighborhood and want to stay there despite everything they have been through.
Nguyen said he is unsure if he will pursue any legal action, adding his insurance company had at one point considered it.
“I get it. We are just ants and they are a big corporation,” said his wife, Helen Nguyen. “I don’t want any money, but I want someone to take responsibility for this. We lost everything we owned, and we are lucky that we were not all killed. No one from Washington Gas has contacted us to this day. They have not said once that they were sorry for what we have been through--nothing. They have said nothing at all.”