Water Co.: No signs of MTBE in regular tests

Water wells in the vicinity of United Refining Co. in Warren have not tested positive for the additive MTBE, a known carcinogen, which the Commonwealth has alleged in a lawsuit oil companies caused groundwater pollution by leaks and spills.

United Refining and American Refining Group in Bradford are listed as defendants in the lawsuit filed last Thursday by the office of Gov. Tom Corbett and Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

Pennsylvania American Water owns eight wells in its Warren system and an unspecified number are near United Refining. The water company supplies about 1.7 million gallons of water per day to its Warren customers, according to its website.

The Commonwealth is seeking to recover millions of state dollars spent to clean up and monitor MTBE, as well as damages and penalties for marketing MTBE. The oil companies knew, or should have known, it was a potent threat to groundwater, the lawsuit maintains.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection requires Pennsylvania American Water to test our plant effluent, which is the treated water leaving the plant, for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including MTBE every three years,” Pennsylvania American Water External Affairs Manager Gary Lobaugh said in an email. “Pennsylvania American Water tests our effluent once a year for VOCs. All effluent test results have been non detect to date. Our next scheduled test for VOCs in our effluent is in September.”

Lobaugh said they also test one source well on a quarterly basis and other wells once per year.

“The last well test was conducted in April of 2014. The next quarterly well test is scheduled for July of 2014. All well test results have been non detect to date,” he said. “After a review of the Attorney General’s news release, Pennsylvania American Water has determined that no specific threat to our Warren wells has been identified and the company has no plans to deviate from our current testing schedule.”

The state spent more than $738 million to investigate and clean up about 3,400 gasoline spills or leaks since 1994, a substantial portion of which have involved MTBE, the suit said.

MTBE has been detected in groundwater throughout the state, the lawsuit said, and is a known carcinogen. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls MTBE a “potential human carcinogen at high doses.”

The chemical was added to gasoline to reduce smog, but was ground to be more soluble than gasoline and traveled farther and faster in groundwater, the Associated Press reported.

A spokesman for United Refining had no comment on the lawsuit.