FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 25, 2005
New Schumer Survey Reveals Scores Of Previously Undisclosed MTBE Leaks Located Throughout Long Island Pose Grave Danger To Public Water Supply
Senator - New Survey Underscores Need to Block MTBE Giveaway to Oil Companies That Has Just Passed House
3 Million Long Island Residents Rely on Groundwater for Drinking Water
Average LI Ratepayer will Spend an extra $260 per Year to Clean up Spills – a 67% Increase over Last Year
Standing at the site of a potentially cancer-causing MTBE spill like the ones that threaten dozens of drinking water wells on Long Island, today, US Senator Charles E. Schumer released a new list of MTBE hotspots that are adjacent to or on top of public drinking water supply wells. The previously undisclosed list of MTBE spills that have taken place near Long Island has been made available to the state but not to the public. And, if specific special interest provisions are included in the Energy Bill that passed the House last week and will soon be considered by the Senate, the enormous clean up costs will be incurred by Long Island’s already overburdened taxpayers. Schumer also announced his intention to filibuster the Energy bill if the MTBE provision is not removed.
"It is shocking that Long Island's drinking water is threatened by leaks and spills that haven't been cleaned up for more than 20 years and, adding insult to injury, consumers will have to foot the bill. This underscores why the Energy Bill has no business being passed if these provisions are included," said Schumer. "The idea that we should let the companies whose product literally poisoned our groundwater get away free – and instead force innocent Long Island families to pay for the cleanup – is so audacious that words fail to describe it. When my kids were four years old they knew that if you make a mess, you clean it up. If the people who introduced poison into our wells and aquifers think that they can getaway without a fight, they have another thing coming."
The list exposed by Schumer today are some of the most potentially dangerous, and until now undisclosed, MTBE hotspots because they are located on top of or next to the public drinking water supply wells. Schumer described a spill that was found at a Mobil Station on Swamp Road that tested positive for soil contamination. The spill investigation was closed in 2002 and the spill has still not been cleaned. MTBE was also detected at a Mobil on Old Country Road. A list of the other MTBE hotspots is attached.
The so-called "Safe Harbor" provision in the Energy bill – which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives – would make taxpayers on Long Island, and those all over the country pay the entire cost to clean up the methyl tertiary-butyl ether, which is better known as MTBE. MTBE is a potentially cancer-causing chemical that was first added to gasoline in the 1970's and has been in widespread use since the 1990's. When gasoline containing MTBE was spilled or leaked out of underground storage tanks, it poisoned underground water systems, including 130 well sites on Long Island.
The "Safe Harbor" provision would prevent petroleum companies from having to pay a cent to clean up the damage their toxic product created by making a blanket declaration that no chemical that gets added to gasoline as part of the energy bill's ethanol mandate, or MTBE can ever be considered a "defective product" in a court of law, even if the chemical is a possible carcinogen.
"This may be the single worst special-interest giveaway to polluters that I have ever seen in more than 20 years in Washington." Schumer said.
MTBE became widespread after changes to the Clean Air Act in 1990 required that reformulated gasoline containing an oxygenate be sold in areas like New York with poor air quality. When MTBE leaks out of an underground storage tanks and into an underground drinking water system like the one under the surface of Long Island, the poison does not break down, instead it moves through the water quickly, and makes the water smell and taste like turpentine. While the nonpartisan US General Accounting Office has detected MTBE in groundwater and drinking water in every state in the US, the problem is particularly acute in Long Island, where residents rely on groundwater for almost all of their drinking water. In New York State alone there are 2,727 MTBE spills. In Nassua County there are 288 verified MTBE spills and in Suffolk County there are 369. In addition, there are hundreds of other gasoline spills that pose a serious MTBE hazard.
Oil and gas lobbyists got the so-called "Safe Harbor" provision added into the US House version of the Energy bill expressly to prevent court decisions that would hold oil companies liable for MTBE poisoning. In 2002, a Lake Tahoe, California jury found "clear and convincing evidence" that three major oil companies acted "with malice" and were liable for polluting ground water with MTBE. During the case, plaintiffs uncovered internal industry documents showing companies had known for years about the dangers of MTBE while they still were promoting its use. On Thursday the House of Representatives passed its version of the Energy Bill, which included the "safe harbor" provision.
Schumer noted that because residents for the Plainview Water District pay part of their water bills through property taxes and part through water rates, homeowners faces increases in both areas. Overall, Schumer said that the cost for cleaning up MTBE on Long Island would cost around 700 million for all 130 public water supplier wells affected.
Schumer also released new data today showing that the average Long Island family will face an overall water bill increase of 67 percent-- and annual increase of $260 – to cover the costs of MTBE cleanup if the "Safe Harbor" provisions are passed into law. The Plainview Water District's demographics and operation are typical of most long Island water suppliers. In addition, Plainview's water costs are squarely in the middle of water suppliers across Long Island, according to the Long Island Water Conference, the group that represents water suppliers in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
"Tom Delay and his cronies could also sneak language into a huge bill declaring that the sky is green or that up is really down, but that doesn't make it true," Schumer said. "MTBE is a poison that threatens the water we use on Long Island to drink, cook, and bathe in. No two-paragraph statement in a piece of legislation is going to change that truth, and I'm not going to let Big Oil push these cleanup costs onto Long Island homeowners without a fight."
Senator Schumer was joined by Paul Granger, Superintendent of the Plainview Water District, Walter Hang, President of the Environmental Montoring Firm Toxics Targeting, Ginger Lieberman, Joseph DiGregorio, Sr., Jay Nathan and Irene Lane.