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Environmental Paper

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Lauren Wojciechowicz

Problems in Philosophy

Environmental Paper

May 8, 2006

If the water contamination problems that we are facing in Bucks County continue to grow in severity, will we be left without any clean water? The human body is made up of nearly 70% of water. It depends on the water content to regulate body temperature, help remove waste, cushion the joints, and transport nutrients and oxygen to billions of cells. Without water humans wouldn't be able to survive.

In Bucks County we face many environmental problems. We need a flood mitigation plan to avoid damage done to the county every time the Delaware River floods, we also have a growing problem with water contamination, our air quality is among the worst in the nation, we need a plan to preserve what open space we have left, and littering and vandalism continue to thrive.

We need clean water to drink, bathe, water our yards, wash our vehicles, and to put out fires, making water contamination an urgent threat facing our community today. A threat to our water supply is very serious because the effects caused can be deadly. When toxins get into water supplies they can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. There are toxins that do not exhibit symptoms right away. They can take years to show negative affects, some can even cause cancer.

The use of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) by gasoline companies is rapidly declining, but detections of MTBE in water supplies are soaring. The number of water systems that discovered the contamination in tap water supplies increased more than fifteen times between 1996 and 2004, and the number of states reporting problems has more than doubled according to EWG Action Fund's analysis of state water testing data. The total number of contaminated systems includes private water supplies that may serve only a single customer, but more than 60 percent supply drinking water to cities, counties, rural communities and schools.

The majority of the population affected by water contamination are consumers who are unaware of the contamination. MTBE contamination is bad for you even with parts as low as two per billion. It can create a bad smelling chemical odor and it's taste can cause tap water to become undrinkable. Water utility companies must either dilude the MTBE contaminated water with clean water to dilute the chemical, install expensive systems to help remove it, or they can abandon the polluted wells and find new water sources that are not comtaminated. The American Water Works Association estimates that a nationwide MTBE cleanup and water replacement could cost around $29 billionm dollars.

MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is known as an oxygenate. It makes gasoline burn cleaner and more efficiently. It is also a foul tasting, disgusting smelling, probable carcinogen that spreads quickly when gasoline escapes from underground storage tanks. It is contaminating groundwater and drinking water all across the United States. Once in soil or water, MTBE breaks down very slowly. As it breaks down it accelerates the spread of other contaminants in gasoline. Benzene, a known carcinogen, is one of the contaminants in gasoline that is spread by MTBE.

Oil companies are putting pressure on Congress to provide them with liability protection because hundreds of communities have discovered serious MTBE contamination, and company documents are coming out in courtrooms making them look responsible for their actions. In April, these documents persuaded a California jury to find Shell, Texaco, Tosco, Lyondell Chemical, and Equilon Enterprises liable for selling a substandard product (gasoline with MTBE) without informing or cautioning people regarding possible pollution hazards. As a result a sixty million dollar settlement was awarded to South Lake Tahoe, California.

Some communities, like South Lake Tahoe, are looking at millions of dollars in costs in order to clean up MTBE contamination or to replace their contaminated water supplies. Atleast sixteen states have started taking measures to ban or limit the use of MTBE in gasoline. Hopefully a national ban is in the near future.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hosted a meeting to give officials and residents an opportunity to comment on a recent proposal that would address the water contamination problem in Warrington. The problem was discovered in 1999 when Exxon Mobil conducted an investigation. The purpose of the investigation was to determine the extent of methyl tertiary butyl ether contamination from an area gas station. Eight wells had concentrations in excess of five micrograms per liter which is extremely high. The case was turned over to the Department of Environmental Protection in July 2001. The DEP sampled more than one hundred wells in the area. Forty-five of the wells were deemed contaminated with harmful levels of PCE.

Mark Conaron, a project officer with the Department of Environmental protection, offered three possible solutions at a community meeting. The first alternative is to take no action. This provides a baseline to which all of the other alternatives can be compared but does not solve any part of the problem. Any actual or potential health and environmental risks posed at the site would remain the same. The second alternative is installation and maintenance of whole house carbon treatment units. This would require the installation of the whole house carbon treatment units in areas with detectable levels of PCE. The cost of the installation and maintenance over thirty years is estimated at 3.7 million dollars. The third alternative is an extension of water mains and lateral connections to the public water supply. This is the solution that the DEP recommends. This plan would require the abandonment of existing wells, but it is a permanent solution. The cost of the plan is estimated at $500,000, and would continue to monitor the plume. All of the homes along the extended main would be offered connection free of cost. The state of Pennsylvania is going to pay for the extension of water mains and lateral connections, but if the residents opt out of this solution and find themselves changing their minds later the cost would be out of their pocket.

There are other sites where gas station tanks have leaked and caused contamination in the community's water. In 2000 the Exxon Mobil and the adjacent Mobil station in Doylestown were shut down due to water contamination. MTBE, a gas additive, was found in the area's water supplies. Methyl tertiary butyl ether is a potential cancer causing chemical.

Three gas tanks have been removed from the site

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