Exxon Found Liable for Contaminating Queens Water

The city sued Exxon for the cost of removing the additive

By Victoria Cavaliere
|  Monday, Oct 19, 2009  |  Updated 2:32 PM EDT
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Exxon Found Liable for Contaminating Queens Water

A federal jury in Manhattan, after an 11 week trial, has found Exxon Mobil liable for contaminating New York City's groundwater with the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether or MTBE, and awarded the City $105 million in damages.

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Exxon Mobil was ordered today to pay $105 million in damages for contaminating New York City's ground water with a gasoline additive,  the city's Law Department said in a statement on Monday.

A jury reached the verdict after an 11-week trial in federal court in Manhattan, the statement said.

The city sued Exxon for the cost of removing the additive, methyl tertiary butyl ether or MTBE, from drinking water wells in southeast Queens. 

The jury found Exxon liable for product liability for failure to warn people about the dangerous nature of its product as well as trespass, public nuisance, and negligence.  

New York State banned MTBE as of 2004, after MTBE had polluted groundwater drinking water supplies throughout the State.  Approximately 20 other states have also banned MTBE.

“Our water supply is one of our most vital resources -- and we will work to protect it and go after those who damage it,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  “Victories like this demonstrate our commitment to using taxpayer resources to protect New Yorkers and are a credit to the talented team at the Corporation Counsel’s office.”

 The City presented evidence that Exxon Mobil added MTBE to gasoline knowing that it would contaminate groundwater when the gasoline leaked and knowing that underground storage tanks at gas stations, many of which are owned by Exxon Mobil, regularly leak, the statement said.

The City also contended that Exxon Mobil ignored warnings from its own scientists and engineers not to use MTBE in areas like Queens that use groundwater for drinking water. 

Exxon Mobil failed to inform government agencies, gasoline station owners, water suppliers, and the public about the dangers from MTBE, the lawsuit contended.

Exxon Mobil lawyers argued during the trial that the wells were turned off and unusable because of contaminants other than MTBE.

The City's drinking water supply system includes 68 wells in southeast Queens.

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