MTBE, 7-Eleven tanks linked

Levels at Aberdeen store high, says MDE letter

Fuel vapor leaks believed cause

More testing is ordered

probe frustrates activists

August 29, 2004|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

State officials have identified fuel tanks at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Aberdeen as at least one potential source of a gasoline additive contaminating that city's public drinking water supply.

The Maryland Department of the Environment ordered 7-Eleven Inc. in an Aug. 13 letter to perform additional ground-water and soil sampling at its store at 602 S. Philadelphia Road after "extremely high concentrations" of methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, were detected beneath the store's underground fuel tanks.

The letter was obtained Friday by The Sun from a member of the Greater Fallston Association. The community group cited the Aberdeen case as supporting its contention that MTBE contamination is a problem throughout Harford County.

Fallston-area residents have been complaining for weeks about the state's handling of MTBE problems in the Upper Crossroads area.

Richard McIntire, spokesman for the department, acknowledged the order to 7-Eleven and said it stems from the state's attempt to find the source or sources of MTBE contaminating one or two of Aberdeen's municipal wells.

The city informed the state in April, McIntire said, that one of its wells was pumping water with MTBE levels of 60 to 80 parts per billion. The state investigates MTBE contamination above 20 ppb, and advises private homeowners to filter their water or use bottled water when it exceeds that level.

Water from that tainted well is blended with that from other wells.

In a report to municipal water customers in June, city officials said MTBE levels in the system range from zero to 18 ppb, with an average of 8.4 ppb. Aberdeen's public works department supplies 1.7 million gallons per day to the city of about 14,000 people.

Mayor Douglas S. Wilson said last night that the test results from the 7-Eleven are expected to be forwarded to the MDE by Oct. 4. After the state agency establishes the affect of any contamination on the municipality's well field, the mayor said, a course of action will be determined. Recent tests of the municipality's water showed MTBE levels at 8 ppb.

Aberdeen's is one of about a dozen community drinking-water systems in Maryland relying on groundwater that show at least traces of MTBE contamination.

McIntire said state officials believe the MTBE contamination at the Aberdeen 7-Eleven -- which registered levels of more than 240,000 ppb beneath the store's tanks -- stems from a leak of fuel vapors.

The station's tanks are two years old and double-walled to prevent fuel leaks, he said, adding that previous tests have not found any liquid escaping.

Margaret Chabris, a spokeswoman for 7-Eleven, said Friday that the station has a double-walled tank and that the company has tested all of its lines and tanks.

"There was one thing that we found that was very small, and we fixed that," Chabris said. "I have a great amount of confidence that there are no leaks at the station now. And I don't know that there ever was. We've gone the extra lengths to assure this."

Chabris said 7-Eleven plans to install eight monitoring wells in the area around the tank pit to confirm that there are no leaks. The work, which she said MDE is overseeing, should be completed within 30 to 45 days.

State officials also suspect vapor leaks may be at least partly responsible for the groundwater contamination in the Fallston area, where residents have been complaining for weeks that the state environmental department and county health department have mishandled the problem.

Greater Fallston Association officers have complained that letters have not been answered, and have called for a meeting with Environment Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick and for a federal investigation of the situation.

"They take us lightly and don't respond, and they are only fueling our anger and frustration," said Roman Ratych, association vice president. "We don't have all the information we need to make sound judgments about what is happening to us."

McIntire said MDE officials plan to respond to the association, possibly as early as this week. Responses to the letters, at least one of which was sent more than a month ago, have been delayed by the need to have the attorney general's office review the information, the spokesman said.

Philbrick, who lives in the Upper Crossroads area, also plans to meet with community leaders, McIntire said.

Meanwhile, Maryland's senators have reacted to the civic group's appeals by asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency to look into the state's handling of MTBE problems.

Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes wrote to EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt on Aug. 20, asking the federal agency to "review and investigate" residents' allegations that state and Harford County officials have fumbled the investigation of MTBE contamination in the Upper Crossroads area, where at least traces of the additive have shown up in 169 wells.

Eleven wells have contamination above the state's threshold.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.