The recent string of gas-related incidents that ended in a deadly explosion in Northwest Dallas is raising questions about the age of gas pipes in Dallas.
Six and a half years ago, city and county leaders pressed Atmos Energy to replace cast iron pipes in Dallas after an explosion injured three people.
While Atmos won't say where aging and brittle pipes are in Dallas, an attorney who specializes in gas injury cases estimates there are thousands of miles of pipes all over Dallas.
When Domingo Mendez's converted garage apartment in South Oak Cliff exploded in 2011, all of his thoughts turned to getting his then 5-year-old son out of the collapsed structure.
“When I turned the light on, I felt the ball of fire. I was burning,” he recalled. “We saw the little spot to crawl out. We started crawling after that. The whole house fell down.”
The force of the explosion had thrown his wife outside.
Mendez’s attorney, Clay Miller, sued Atmos. He claimed an aging cast iron pipe under the alley cracked and leaked into the apartment. Atmos disputed the claim, saying the apartment was not up to code and the company could not have foreseen what happened. Miller says the claim ended with a confidential settlement.
In 2013, Atmos put a plan in place to speed up the rate of replacing cast iron pipes. It’s something the city of Houston did decades ago. But Miller says the rate of replacement of both cast iron and steel is not fast enough.
"We still have 100's of miles of cast iron in the system that's affecting houses all over,” Miller said.
Miller says, like cast iron, steel pipes are more prone to corrosion and cracking than newer polyurethane pipes — especially after weather like the record rainfall in February.
“Next dry spell with a rainstorm, they're going to break,” Miller said. “Question is will they break and leak and be found? Or break and have an explosion?”
Mendez's son is now 12 years old. He will always bear the scars of the explosion.
“I think anyone who lives in a neighborhood with steel or cast iron pipes after a major rainstorm should be worried,” Miller said.
Atmos sent a generic answer in response questions from FOX 4.
“We have received your email. Currently, Atmos Energy is focused on restoring service in Northwest Dallas and taking care of our customers,” the company said. “We are providing daily updates and will attempt to include an answer to your question in that update. We are keeping track of all inquiries.”