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DEC Tests Hyde Park Water Wells

By Dan Shapley
Originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal
November 1, 2000

Gas additive being traced
Wells:  Water filters recommended for some

By the end of the week, almost 160 homes in the area of Yates Avenue will have been tested for water contamination, according to a state Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman.

Fifty seven homes have been sampled to date, according to DEC spokeswoman Ellen Stoutenburgh.  Of those, she said, 18 tested above the state’s safe drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion of MTBE.

“I was getting up in the middle of the night and drinking Maalox,” said Yates Avenue resident Jacqueline Whalen, whose home recently received a filter.  “And my 10 year old was coming out in the middle of the night and saying ‘I’m sick, I’m sick.’”

Whalen said her family’s stomach problems have ceased since they stopped drinking unfiltered water.

A gasoline additive to be banned in the state in 2004, methyl tertiary butyl ether, MTBE, has been linked to gastrointestinal, liver, kidney and nervous system problems, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers it a possible human carcinogen.

The most contaminated well tested, at a home adjacent to a service station, tested at 330 parts of MTBE per billion, Stoutenburgh said, well above the standard.

In January, three tanks at that gas station, presently a Cenco, were removed and soil contamination discovered, Stoutenburgh said.

Well sampling and filter installation done until last week were paid for by the operator of the Cenco station, Ali Lateef, according to Stoutenburgh, but the station operator has since stopped paying.

Stephan Bitterman, who has identified himself to the Poughkeepsie Journal as an attorney representing 9G Cenco, would not comment Tuesday.

Station Changed Hands

The land is owned by Thomas Bretscher and the tanks pulled in January were registered in his name, according to Stoutenburgh.

Bretscher’s attorney, David Sears, was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached.  Bretscher could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.  Lateef said he would have to speak with his attorney before commenting.

According to DEC records, Bretscher once operated the site as a Citgo station, and in January of 1992 or 1993 – DEC records are unclear – the DEC investigated the station, according to Stoutenburgh.  She gave this account:

After a driver reported water in gasoline he purchased, the DEC investigated and found a pin hole leak in one underground gas storage tank that taking on an estimated half-inch of water a day.  But there was no evidence that petroleum had leaked from the tank she said.

DEC ordered the contents of the tank be transferred to another on-site tank and that the damaged tank be repaired.  As far as DEC records indicate, the tank was never repaired and wasn’t removed before this year.  Stoutenburgh was not sure if the tank had been in use since then.

Bretscher, Stoutenburgh said, is “listed as both owner and operator of the tanks… At the present time, there is no valid petroleum bulk storage registration for the tanks on site….

“It means Bretscher is out of compliance because Ali (Lateef) in a meeting with DEC’s attorneys represented himself as the operator of the tanks,”  she said.  But according to our registration, the last operator of record was Bretscher.”

Both Bretscher and Lateef are considered potentially responsible for the contamination, according to Stoutenburgh. Other sites could also share potential responsibility, she said.

When questioned this week about an earlier Journal report regarding the source of the contamination, Stoutenburgh said, “There are other service stations within a relatively short amount of distance along Route 9G.”  However, she added, “We know that the Cenco station is a potential responsible party because when the tanks were removed in January of this year, we saw gasoline underneath the tanks.”

Bretscher was notified by letter about his potential responsibility in January, Stoutenburgh said.  Lateef verbally agreed to pay for sampling and filter installation but has since stopped, she said.  The DEC has no record of having contacted Lateef by letter until October 18, Stoutenbugh said.

All wells that test above 10 parts per billion will have water filters installed, Stoutenburgh said.  A Troncillito Brothers Water Service truck is parked on the corner of Yates Avenue and Leonard Road for the use of those awaiting filters or tests, she added.

An additional 27 homes in the area tested positive for MTBE – but at levels within the safe drinking standard, Stoutenburgh said.  Those wells will either be retested or outfitted with filters, she said.  She said tests detected no MTBE at 12 wells.