MTBE reduction found in station storage tanks

But level remains high at second monitoring well

September 17, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

State officials announced yesterday a sharp reduction in the level of contamination of a gasoline additive at the underground storage tanks of an Exxon station in the Upper Crossroads section of Harford County, but said that does not solve the problem of the apparent leak.

"This is good news, but it does not mean the problem has been solved or that the department's scrutiny of the situation will decrease," said Kendl P. Philbrick, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The level of the additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, at the underground storage-tank field at the Exxon gasoline station at Routes 152 and 165 has dropped to 1.2 parts per billion in tests completed late last month, according to the department.

This is down from a level of 26,000 parts per billion at the tank field in March.

The station is considered to be the primary suspect in the contamination of the wells at 169 homes in the area.

Additive since 1990

MTBE, which has been linked to cancer in animals but has an unknown impact on humans, was added to gasoline in 1990 to help it burn cleaner and reduce air pollution.

Philbrick said the department would continue to oversee the cleanup until all wells are below the 20 parts-per-billion level, the point at which the state advises corrective action.

Community reaction to the drop in the contamination level was mixed.

"If that is true, I think it's excellent," said Steve Scheinin, president of the Greater Fallston Association. He said the community has gotten misleading information from Exxon and the state in the past.

Roman Ratych, a vice president, said he expected to see a sharp drop in the MTBE level at the storage-tank field.

"They have been using a soil extraction system for months to suck out every ounce of water from around the tank," he said.

Ratych said he is still concerned about the MTBE that has leaked into well water.

The state said tests at another monitoring well, about 10 feet from the tank field, register 1,700 parts of MTBE per billion.

Philbrick, who lives in the area, is to address a community meeting tomorrow for residents of the county, which has seen a number of apparent leaks of MTBE this year.

The meeting is to begin at 9 a.m. in the Fallston High School auditorium, said Ratych. A community meeting at the school in June attracted 700 people.

Addressing concerns

Ratych said the session will give Philbrick the opportunity to address concerns of residents living in the Upper Crossroads section of the county, as well as those of parents with children attending the Fallston Presbyterian Church preschool. In March, the church registered 229 parts per billion of MTBE in its water.

Parents have complained to the county executive and to the county Health Department that they were not informed of the high level of MTBE in the water.

Ratych said Aberdeen resident also have been invited to attend the meeting. Last month, the Department of the Environment identified fuel tanks at a 7-Eleven store in Aberdeen as a potential source of MTBE contamination of the city's drinking water.

MTBE has been found in at least one of the wells supplying Aberdeen's public water system.

Ratych said that Exxon Mobil Corp., which owns the Upper Crossroads station, is not expected to have a representative at the meeting. He said the company agreed to take questions and answer them in writing.

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