Finally deciding a lawsuit first filed in 2003, a federal jury has found Exxon Mobil liable for $104.7 million in compensatory damages for contaminating groundwater in NYC. The city had originally sought $250 million to cover construction of a treatment plant to purify the water in five wells in southeastern Queens. (The well water is used when the upstate reservoirs system is out of service during repairs, droughts and other emergencies.) The jury found Exxon Mobil guilty of failing to warn government agencies when it decided to add M.T.B.E. to gasoline. So what is M.T.B.E.?
M.T.B.E. stands for for methyl tertiary butyl ether, and it's a gasoline additive used to help gasoline burn more cleanly and reduces emissions. The EPA says M.T.B.E. can make water undrinkable because of its foul taste and odor. It's probably harmless in small doses, but it's been found to be a carcinogen in high doses in animals. 25 states, including New York, now ban or restrict its use.
In 2003, the city sued 23 oil companies over M.T.B.E. contamination from gas station storage tank leaks. All the companies settled for a total of $15 million—except Exxon Mobil, which says it may appeal yesterday's decision. A spokesman for the company insists Exxon Mobil was not responsible for any contamination, telling the Times, "We do not believe we should be required to compensate the City of New York for someone else's contamination." Exxon Mobil is also being sued over the massive Newtown Creek oil spill.