New Hampshire Sues Exxon Mobil, CITGO for MTBE Contamination

CONCORD, N.H. -- The state of New Hampshire launched its case against ExxonMobil and CITGO on Jan. 14, seeking more than $700 million in fees to monitor and treat water systems contaminated by the additive MBTE, reported the Associated Press. Defense lawyers have argued in pretrial hearings and court documents that the oil companies already cleaned up their own sites, and other contamination was caused by unnamed third parties.

"A significant part of the state's case will be presented from the defendants' own documents," stated Jessica Grant, representing New Hampshire. Grant presented multiple ExxonMobil memos in which company employees warned against the environmental effects and potential remediation costs of MBTE.

MBTE was used in gasoline to increase octane and reduce smog-causing emissions starting in the 1970s. In the late 1990s, it was discovered to contaminate drinking water when gasoline spilled or leak into surface or groundwater. New Hampshire banned MBTE in 2007.

The lawsuit, filed in 2003, is the only stated-filed case on MBTE contamination to reach trial. Other cases, brought by municipalities, water districts or individual well owners, were settled or dismissed, with one exception, according to the report.

The trial is expected to last four months and is being held in a federal court on loan to New Hampshire in order to avoid monopolizing Merrimack Superior Court, which only has three courtrooms. More than 50,000 exhibits have been marked, and more than 230 individuals are named on the witness list.

Grant told jurors that experts for the state estimate that more than 40,000 wells in New Hampshire are likely contaminated by MBTE. Approximately 60 percent of the state's population receives water from wells, driving the treatment cost up.

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