Water and Soil Contamination Lawyers Boston, Malden

If you have fallen ill because of water or soil contamination in your area, you have legal rights. You'll undoubtedly be focusing on your treatment and recovery, and are encouraged to seek representation if you decide to pursue legal action. At Rodman, Rodman & Sandman, serving Malden and Boston, Massachusetts, our water and soil contamination lawyers have successfully represented individuals who have unfairly become sick from drinking water.  Please contact us to schedule a free, confidential consultation.

What is MTBE?

MTBE is a chemical blended into gasoline by oil refiners.  It was initially blended into gasoline in the 1980s in order to boost octane in conjunction with the phase-out of lead.  The use of MTBE in gasoline was greatly increased in the 1990s as a result of the 1990 Amendment to the Clean Air Act, which required the use of oxygenates in gasoline in certain areas of the country that did not meet air quality standards.  Oil refiners across the country overwhelmingly chose MTBE as their “oxygenate of choice” over various other alternatives.

Why is it a problem?

MTBE is highly soluble in water, much more than the other gasoline constituents of concern: benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene and xylene (BTEX).  This means that when MTBE comes in contact with water, it will dissolve into the water and flow along with it.  In addition, MTBE does not absorb, or naturally stick to the soil as well as BTEX.  So, if there is a release of gasoline containing MTBE into the soil, MTBE will flow through the soil to the water.  As a result of MTBE’s high solubility, even relatively small spills of gasoline blended with MTBE can contaminate a nearby well.

To make matters worse, while the BTEX components generally biodegrade in the natural environment, MTBE generally does not biodegrade in underground water.  In fact, the contamination plume often will continue to spread and contaminate large volumes of water.  Even more significantly, because of its high solubility, once MTBE has contaminated soil or groundwater, it is much more difficult and expensive to clean up than the other constituents of gasoline.  Internally, the oil companies estimate that the addition of MTBE to gasoline significantly increases the cost of remediation at clean-up sites.

In addition, MTBE has a very low taste and odor threshold.  Although the figures range, studies show that MTBE can be detected in water at levels less than 1 part per billion (1ppb).  Recently, the U.S. EPA has concluded that MTBE is an “animal carcinogen, and poses a carcinogenic potential to humans,” and several studies have shown that both oral and inhalation exposure to MTBE causes dose-related, statistically significant increases in combined cancers in rats.

Because of these unique characteristics, MTBE contamination is often found wherever gasoline containing MTBE is stored.  Indeed, MTBE is a problem throughout Massachusetts.  It is our understanding that DEP well testing data indicates that MTBE may have been found in as many as 18 percent of public water supply wells in Massachusetts.

If you have questions about a potential water or soil contamination case, contact the lawyers of Rodman, Rodman & Sandman, serving Malden, Boston, and Everett, Massachusetts.

Why are the oil companies responsible?

Given MTBE’s low taste and odor threshold and its high solubility, an MTBE contamination situation can be extremely expensive to clean up.  These costs should not be borne by the ratepayers but should instead be borne by the manufacturers of MTBE and the refiners that blend it into their gasoline.

As a result of investigation and discovery obtained by our attorneys in other lawsuits, it has been established that many of the oil companies that have added MTBE to their gasoline knew by the early 1980s that MTBE had characteristics that made it more harmful to the environment than the other constituents of gasoline.  Moreover, the oil companies knew that a large percentage of the underground storage tanks (USTs) used to store gasoline were leaking.  The oil companies knew early on that as a result of MTBE’s characteristics and the leaking UST crisis, the addition of MTBE to their gasoline would cause significant increases in drinking water contamination in the vicinity of their stations.  In fact, some of these oil companies were warned by their environmental departments not to add MTBE to their gasoline for these very reasons.  These warnings went unheeded.

Oil companies argue that they were forced to add MTBE to their gasoline because the government required them do so.  However, the Clean Air Act Amendments simply do not mandate the use of MTBE.  There are other alternatives available, including ethanol.  In fact, there is evidence that it was the oil companies who lobbied the government to require the use of oxygenates in the first place. When asked by the EPA whether the oil companies had any experience with MTBE contamination and whether MTBE posed a risk to the environment, these companies did not inform the EPA of their vast experience with MTBE contamination and misleadingly represented that it was safe for the environment.

Indeed, the jury in the case of South Tahoe Public Utility District v. Atlantic Richfield Companies, et al., San Francisco Superior Court, determined in April of 2002 that MTBE was defectively designed because the risk of harm inherent in its design outweighed the benefits of the design and was defective because of the oil companies’ failure to warn about its characteristics.  Moreover, the jury found that several of the oil company defendants acted with malice in selling gasoline containing MTBE.

What kind of financial recovery can you seek?

Specific elements of financial recovery may include:

  • Monitoring for each well, both past and present;
  • Investigation costs for each water provider to determine the anticipated duration of contamination for each well currently contaminated with MTBE;
  • Investigation costs to determine wells that are at risk due to MTBE in the water provider’s well field;
  • Costs associated with determining the zone of capture for each well located in the well field where MTBE has contaminated at least one well;
  • Costs associated with well protection for wells not currently contaminated that are located in a well field where other wells have been contaminated with MTBE;
  • Costs associated with the design and construction of treatment for wells currently contaminated with MTBE;
  • Operation and maintenance costs associated with treatment for MTBE;
  • Reimbursement for monies previously spent by the water provider for previous treatment or loss of use of any well;
  • Internal costs for each water provider in having to deal with the contamination (increased labor costs for example); and
  • Treatment costs for future treatment.

Contact Our Personal Injury Lawyers

If you have further questions about drinking water or soil contamination by MTBE, contact the personal injury lawyers of Rodman, Rodman & Sandman. Serving the Boston area, including Malden and Everett, our firm is happy to schedule a consultation with you to discuss these matters.