Bottled-water delivery to homes to be halted

Exxon decision 9 months after spill sparks anger

September 30, 2006|By Josh Mitchell and Timothy B. Wheeler | Josh Mitchell and Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN REPORTERS

ExxonMobil Corp. will stop providing bottled water to dozens of homes in the Jacksonville area of Baltimore County next week, nine months after a gasoline spill stirred anxiety about the safety of drinking water.

The oil company has voluntarily distributed the water since the winter but will make its last delivery Tuesday, according to a letter to residents dated Thursday.

The letter, released by the Maryland Department of the Environment, states that tests reveal no gasoline contamination beyond minuscule levels in any of the residential wells.

"We do not believe that gasoline constituents above the MDE's state action levels will be detected in your well in the future," Stephanie M. McQueen, a project manager for ExxonMobil, wrote in the letter, apparently sent to 97 homes.

She added that the company will continue to monitor wells and will resume distributing bottled water or install filtration systems if contamination is detected.

Attempts to obtain comment from company officials yesterday were unsuccessful.

A state environmental official called the decision "outrageous," saying it was premature for the company to determine that the wells were not in danger of being contaminated.

"We need more time to learn about the site before we make a decision like this," said Jonas A. Jacobson, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

As of yesterday, residents apparently had not received the letter.

Jacobson said that at a meeting with community leaders Monday, two Exxon officials said nothing of the possibility that the distribution of bottled water would be discontinued.

"I'm upset about it, and I'm sure the people getting letters are going to be irate," said Glen A. Thomas, president of the Greater Jacksonville Association.

"These people are still very uncertain about what's happening under the ground of their homes and their well water."

He added that providing bottled water is "simply the cheapest way ExxonMobil could have continued to provide some safety net for those families in the middle of this."

In February, about 25,000 gallons of gasoline seeped from an Exxon service station at Jarrettsville Pike and Paper Mill and Sweet Air roads.

More than 120 wells were tested for contamination, and at least six showed significant levels of the gasoline additive MTBE.

Water filtration systems have been installed at 11 homes, and at least some of an additional 22 homes near the site will continue to receive bottled water, Jacobson said.

The state environmental department has asked ExxonMobil to continue to provide the water to the 97 other homes, but officials had not been able to get in touch with the company, Jacobson said yesterday.

If ExxonMobil does not restore bottled water to the residents, the state might require stepped-up testing of residential wells, he said.

Herbert Meade, chief of the environmental department's oil control program, said the agency also plans to consult the attorney general to see if more can be done to force the company to provide the bottled water.

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