MTBE leak appears isolated

Heating oil spill is possible source of tainted water at mobile home park

April 30, 2006|By LAURA MCCANDLISH | LAURA MCCANDLISH,SUN REPORTER

A well that serves 100 residents of a Finksburg mobile home park and has been contaminated with the gasoline additive MTBE appears to be an isolated incident that could have resulted from a heating oil tank spill, said Herbert M. Meade of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Most of the 40 homes at Sullivan's Trailer Park on Old Westminster Pike have outside heating oil tanks. While heating oil doesn't contain the gasoline additive, it can be contaminated while transported in a tank truck also used to carry gasoline, said Meade, who oversees underground fuel storage and leak cleanups for MDE.

"The investigation so far does not appear to be from an off-site source," he said. "We don't feel it's an area-wide problem. Sullivan's is the only place we're picking it up. We could be dealing with something that happened in the fall, a couple pints that spilled during a delivery, or even from the winter before."

The community's residents will meet with health and environmental officials Thursday night to discuss how their drinking water might be restored to safe levels.

Options under consideration are treating the well, leaving it alone or drilling a new well, according to Meade and Brian Flynn, water quality supervisor for the Carroll County Health Department.

"We definitely need new information to see if drilling a new well is worth the expense," Flynn said. "If it's put in the wrong location, blindly, it could be a worse situation. It needs to be fleshed out more."

Several people who live in the community said they will not drink the water until the situation clears up.

"I've started giving the dogs bottled water," said Jeff Watt, who lives on a lot in the 2200 block of Old Westminster Pike. "We brew our coffee and make our ice cubes with bottled water now."

Even before the MTBE announcement, Brittany Tasker and her family didn't drink the well water.

"It's nasty," said Brittany, 15, a Westminster High School freshman. "We'll bathe and brush our teeth with it, but it just doesn't taste like regular water."

MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is a suspected carcinogen that adds an odor and taste to water in concentrations of 20 to 40 parts per billion, Meade said.

In Maryland, MDE requires action at 20 parts per billion.

Water from the well serving Sullivan's had 26.9 parts per billion when it was tested for MTBE in March, county health officials said. Monitoring devices at a dozen other sites in Carroll County, whose wells serve about 250 residences, including some in Hampstead and Gamber, which are tested monthly, Flynn said.

Since MTBE leaches into the ground from fuel tanks, groundwater is a ripe source for contamination.

About 40 percent of Carroll County residents have private wells, Flynn said. Wells also feed into municipal water supplies, such as in Taneytown and Westminster.

"Wells overall tend to be pretty secure from most contamination issues," Flynn said. "But there's always a risk of a spill or something happening nearby."

State officials have also been testing for gasoline additives at homes in Gamber, where MTBE and benzene have been reported.

"That's mainly been benzene," Meade said. "It's a more harmful, known carcinogen."

The Sandymount area of Finksburg has had other incidents of MTBE contamination in recent years. In October, letters were mailed to hundreds of residents and businesses near a High's store/Citgo station, an Exxon station that is being renovated and a BP station, all on Route 140, informing them that the area groundwater had tested positive for MTBE, Flynn said.

The problem dates to 2002, when MTBE was detected at a Tevis Oil Co.-owned Shell station at Suffolk Road and Route 140. It affected 23 wells.

Residents in the Carroll County Trails neighborhood near the station have filed a class-action lawsuit against Stanley H. "Jack" Tevis III, president of Tevis Oil.

The owner of the Finksburg mobile home park, Arthur "Pete" Sullivan, will bear the costs of improving water quality for the residents, MDE officials said.

Drilling another well nearby could cost $20,000, Meade said. "There's the possibility of drilling a dry hole and having to start over," he said.

Installing a carbon filtration system - put in place in past years in Finksburg, Gamber and Hampstead wells - could cost about $40,000, said Barry O'Brien, division chief of MDE's water supply program.

A meeting about the problem at Sullivan's is planned for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Sandymount Elementary School.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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