MTBE lawsuit heads to trial |

MTBE lawsuit heads to trial

The lawsuit the South Tahoe Public Utility District filed last year against gasoline manufacturers, formulators, distributors and retailers for MTBE contamination on South Shore is scheduled to go to a jury trial Nov. 6, 2000.

“We are hoping this will be settled prior to going to court, but getting the court date is significant,” said Dennis Cocking, STPUD information officer. “It puts a finite time limit on this. It gives more of a sense of urgency when a court date has been established.”

The suit, filed Nov. 10 in San Francisco Superior Court, alleges that the defendants marketed MTBE in South Lake Tahoe when they knew – or should have known – that the gasoline additive would reach groundwater, pollute public water supplies and threaten public health.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a fuel additive that for years comprised significant portions of California gasoline. It is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible cancer-causing agent. Because it has a horrible taste and odor, most people can detect it in water at very low levels of contamination.

Numerous MTBE plumes contaminate South Shore’s water, and since September 1997 more than one-third of the district’s wells have been closed down because of MTBE.

STPUD supplies water to about 30,000 customers through 12,500 connections. The number served can triple in Tahoe’s busy summer season, and mandatory water-usage restrictions have been in place the past two summers because of the loss of wells.

No specific dollar amount has been named, but the lawsuit states: “The district seeks millions of dollars in compensatory damages needed to investigate, remediate and/or treat MTBE contamination; to secure alternative water supplies, distribution and transmission systems; and for damage to the district’s water rights. In addition, the district is seeking punitive damages to punish certain defendants and deter future conduct and disgorgement of the manufacturers’ MTBE-related profits.”

To date, STPUD has spent more than $2 million related to fighting MTBE.

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