Exxon Found Liable in Maryland Gas Leak
A Maryland jury awarded more than $150 million to the neighbors of a northern Baltimore County service station, finding Exxon Mobil Corp. liable for the damage caused when thousands of gallons of gasoline seeped into the groundwater from a leaking pipe.
The Baltimore County jury's verdict -- delivered after five months of testimony and nearly two weeks of deliberations -- directed the oil giant to compensate about 90 Jacksonville families for the lost value of their homes. It also requires Exxon to pay for cancer screenings, and it acknowledged the upheaval caused by the huge spill by awarding millions for emotional distress.
Awards for a lifetime of medical monitoring ranged from $5,000 to nearly $500,000, depending on the size of the family and age of its members. They will be checked annually for four types of cancer. MTBE, a gasoline additive, has been linked to cancer in lab animals.
Exxon agreed last year to pay $4 million to the Maryland Department of the Environment, which officials said was the largest environmental penalty ever levied by the state. The company could face an annual $1 million penalty if it does not maintain a cleanup schedule. Exxon said it has spent more than $38 million for cleanup activities, an effort that could take a decade or longer to complete.
Cleanup continues around the closed station, with a total of 87 wells drilled throughout the area pumping water from the ground to remove any contaminants, according to a report filed last month with the state. Exxon Mobil succeeded in recovering nearly half of the lost gasoline in the weeks immediately after discovery of the underground pipe rupture.
Recovering the remaining leaked fuel has been arduous because it is dissolved and dispersed in ground water or in vapor form in the soil. In the past three years, more than 45 million gallons of ground water have been pumped and treated, according to the report.
The Jacksonville residents brought the suit after more than 26,000 gallons of gasoline seeped into the groundwater from a leaking pipe in 2006. The equivalent of four tanker loads spread through the ground for more than five weeks before the leak was discovered.
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