Oil firm denies tainting water

MTBE contamination not from Exxon station, it says

October 13, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The Exxon station at Routes 152 and 165 is not the source of the chemical contamination of 178 drinking water wells in the Upper Crossroads section of Harford County, the oil company said yesterday in a report to the state.

"Although further investigation is needed, the preliminary data collected thus far does not indicate that the Exxon station is the source of the regional MTBE impact found throughout the study area," Exxon Mobil Corp. said in its comprehensive site assessment report to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is a gasoline additive used to make fuel burn cleaner. It is also a potential cancer-causing substance.

Community reaction to the report was mixed.

"Their conclusion is not supported by their own evidence," said Steven Scheinin, president of the Greater Fallston Association Inc.

He said he didn't accept Exxon Mobil's conclusion. "If they say they are not the source of the contamination within the half-mile radius of the station, that is not supported by the evidence.

"They have already acknowledged 33 gasoline fixtures [on the gasoline storage systems] were not tight," he said.

Roman Ratych, a vice president of the community group, said the station might be responsible for a limited part of the contamination.

"If Exxon is not responsible, what's the next step?" he asked. "If Exxon's role in the contamination is limited, then I think the Maryland Department of the Environment needs to step up to the plate and do its own investigation. Somebody has to find the source of the contamination. It's massive within the half-mile radius of the Exxon station."

In a news media advisory released by Exxon Mobil spokeswoman Patty Delaney, the company said: "According to the report, the data collected from the investigation concludes that no large volume leaks or spills occurred at the Exxon station sufficient enough to reach all of the wells throughout the study area."

The oil company said that based on the results of its investigation, done in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, it appears that additional sources might have caused or contributed to the presence of MTBE in the wells.

The oil company identified other potential sources as automobile accidents, former gasoline stations in the area, and widespread residential and commercial petroleum use in the area.

It said storm water runoff could also have been a factor. The company noted a study by the U.S. Geological Survey that identified MTBE in 7 percent of 592 storm water samples collected in cities in the United States between 1991 and 1995.

Richard J. McIntire, a spokesman for MDE, said the agency received the thick report at 5 p.m. Friday and is reviewing it.

He said MDE had no response to the company's claim that its station was not the source of the MTBE found throughout the test area.

"We believe that other work needs to be done," said McIntire. "The report did not identify what part of this issue is truly directly related to the Exxon station."

Dr. Andrew Bernstein, Harford County's health officer, told County Council members last Tuesday that auto accidents at the intersection could have contributed to the contamination.

He said there were 71 accidents, involving 141 vehicles, at the intersection over the past 24 years.

Bernstein also told council members that Health Department inspections had found traces of MTBE or gasoline contamination in the well water at seven of the 20 gasoline stations in the county with wells.

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