Northeastern Section–41st Annual Meeting (20–22 March 2006)

Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 2:05 PM


CALDWELL, D.W., Department of Earth Science, Boston Univ, 685 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215,

In a coastal town, five private wells were closed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a result of gasoline contamination. Of the four upgradient service stations, one was found to be the source of the contamination when gasoline-saturated soil was found in a nearby test pit. After 4 years, as no formal action was taken against the service station by the Town or the State, the homeowners in question filed suit against the Town, the State, and the service station. In preparation for this lawsuit, a hydrologic and water quality study were conducted.. A storm drain near the service station transported gasoline downgradient to a catch basin from which 250 gallons of gasoline were removed. This catch basin connected with a storm drain that subsequently passed between the homes with the contaminated wells. Pumping of the wells lowered the water table below the storm drain, allowing gasoline to flow into these wells, contaminating them. We documented plumes of BTEX compounds with values exceeding EPA drinking water standards. These plumes were centered along this storm drain. At a perfunctory deposition, the twelve lawyers for the defense demonstrated little interest in the results of our study, as they also later did in court. The lawyers apparently believed that a single question, “Doesn't groundwater flow for great distances? That stuff could have come from anywhere,” would caste doubt on our study. After a remarkably short trial, the jury held for the victims of the pollution , and a new water supply, funded by the defense, was made available to the beleaguered homeowners.

In a separate case in South Carolina, a large volume of jet fuel, which leaked from a tank farm owned by the U.S. Air Force, contaminated the soil and groundwater in nearby homes. While these homes were serviced by municipal water, fumes were present in some homes, which allegedly resulted in the death of one resident. Our study here was carefully analyzed by the defense. Following a 12-hour deposition, the defense settled the law suit.