Spilling poison

a us
district government has sued Exxon Mobil Corporation, the world's largest oil company, for contaminating Minnesota's Plainview district's water supplies following a spill of methyl tertiary butyl ether ( mtbe) from one of the company's stations. mtbe is a known human carcinogen and its level in the district's groundwater increased by more than 10 times since the spill was discovered in August 1997, claims Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting Incorporation, a environmental database firm.

The district is seeking us $2 billion in punitive damages and us $500 million in compensatory damages for the spill from the now-closed company's station located in Plainview. The district, which provides drinking water to 35,000 Long Island residents, said that Exxon Mobil has known about the mtbe spill, but did nothing to prevent it from spreading. "Exxon has known about this for many years. But it did not advise the district's residents to take precautions. Therefore, the harshest punishment should be brought to bear upon this corporate entity,' says Marc Bern, the district's lawyer.

"The supply wells of the district are free from mtbe contamination, so we are strictly being proactive here. The most important task for us now is to look for a comprehensive site investigation and clean up,' said Paul Granger, the district's superintendent. But exactly how much mtbe has seeped into the groundwater has not been established either, added Granger. "Since there is no monitoring between the gas station and the well, mtbe could be right on the verge of penetrating the well even tomorrow for all we know,' conceded Hang.

This is not the first time that Exxon has been sued for a mtbe spill. In February 2001, residents of a New York town sued their area's government and two petrol stations owned by Exxon Mobil for alleged mtbe contamination of the town's drinking water.