3 wells polluted in Lake Carmel

(Original publication: May 15, 2002)

KENT The Putnam County Health Department is testing the drinking water of homes located near a Citgo service station in the town's Lake Carmel section after tests by the state and the station owner detected unsafe levels of a gasoline additive in several wells.

Three homes' wells were found to have levels of MTBE higher than allowed by state standards.

The Health Department initiated its own testing after the state Department of Environmental Conservation found high levels of the chemical in a monitoring well at the Amazon Citgo on Towners Road.

Mid-Valley Oil, which owns the station, paid a $400,000 fine last year for violating federal underground storage tank regulations at 60 of its businesses. Mid-Valley also began testing drinking water supplies in the neighborhood.

The company, health officials said, is installing filters on the three private wells.

Putnam Health Director Bruce Foley said the contaminated samples were from homes on Brayton Road. One, he said, had a level of 73 parts per billion, and the two others were around 120 parts per billion. The allowable state standard is 50 parts per billion. The department on Monday hand-delivered letters to about 50 homes on Brayton, Amazon and Grasslands roads, informing residents of the situation.

"We're being overly cautious and trying to get the information out so people know we're on top of it," Foley said yesterday.

MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, is a clean-air additive in unleaded gasoline that is suspected of causing cancer in people who drink it at high doses, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Studies indicate that short-term exposure, such as from pumping gas, is not highly toxic.

Foley said the chemical has been found at low levels, which have yet to be confirmed by additional testing. He said if the chemical were present at higher, more dangerous levels hundreds or thousands of parts per billion it would impart a distinctive odor and taste to water.

While MTBE cleans the air by making gasoline burn more efficiently, leaks from underground tanks have polluted water supplies throughout the area and across the country. The chemical was detected last year in wells at the Kent Elementary School. A county-approved treatment system that uses carbon filters and chlorine to remove contaminants was installed. Follow-up water tests were negative. MTBE has also been detected in several residential and commercial water supplies in Carmel, Kent, Putnam Valley and Mahopac in recent years.

Gasoline contains numerous harmful ingredients, including the carcinogens benzene and toluene. MTBE, Foley said, passes through soil and water very quickly and is an indicator of the more dangerous toxins. None of the tests in the neighborhood showed anything other than MTBE, he said.

Neighbors along Brayton Road said they were worried about their water supply. Henry Villegas said results from his well showed 120-125 parts per billion.

"Sure we're concerned," Villegas said. "They're coming in (today) to put filters on."

The mechanic at the station referred questions to the company's Orange County offices. Telephone messages left with a lawyer representing Mid-Valley were not returned yesterday.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation did not return phone calls yesterday.

Mid-Valley was fined last year by the EPA for violations that included not regularly testing for leaks from its tanks and operating substandard tanks. The stations were located in 20 New York counties, including Putnam. It was unknown yesterday if the Amazon Citgo was one of those stations.


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Wednesday, January 5, 2005