The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Don't drink the water

Jul 5, 2004

More than 100 wells in a mile square of Harford County, north of Baltimore, are being tested for the gasoline additive MTBE. Already 34 have been found with levels of MTBE above the recommended levels, 13 at "worrisome" levels, according to an official from Maryland's Department of the Environment, which has been testing the wells.

At the center of this square mile sits an ExxonMobil gas station. Ground water below this gas station tested at more than a THOUSAND times the allowed limit of MTBE. Still, ExxonMobil denies responsibility and wants Maryland officials to go looking for another "source."

More than 60 lawsuits have already been brought against big oil companies in similar cases across the country. A neighborhood of Poughkeepsie, New York, has 100 wells showing MTBE contamination.

MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether) has been added to gasoline since the 1970s. Because gasoline is a known component in air pollution, this chemical was created to lower the amount of pollution going into the air.

However, when gas with MTBE ends up in the water, the contaminant not only gives water a bad taste, but also has certain health consequences. The Environmental Protection Agency has long known that MTBE caused rats and mice to develop cancer, as well as kidney, liver and other problems. But even though it has been used for over 30 years, the EPA still hasn't come out with standards for human consumption, claiming it is still studying the matter.

Meanwhile the friends of the oil companies in Congress have been pushing legislation that would absolve oil companies of any liability for damages from MTBE in gasoline.

The problem of water contamination in Harford County may be in the news now due to current contamination, but troubles with MTBE at this ExxonMobil gas station were already known 13 years ago. The state didn't close the gas station nor make ExxonMobil pay any damages.

The corporations pollute and government officials close their eyes – there's plenty of blame to go around on all levels of government.