The lawsuit, over the use of a hazardous gasoline additive, names defendants including British Petroleum and Exxon Mobile.
In the 1970s oil companies began using an additive called Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether, known as MTBE. It’s since been discovered to ruin water quality, causing it to smell and taste of turpentine.
Assistant Rhode Island Attorney General Michael Rubin said the substance is considered a likely carcinogen and has already been found locally.
“It’s contaminated wells in RI, it’s contaminated aquifers in RI,” said Rubin. “In Chepachet, there’s been MTBE found in the groundwater. There’s a location in South Kingstown, specifically Wakefield.”
In addition, Rubin said MTBE has been found in Burrillville, Chepachet, and South County, among other places.
“It’s mainly involving well-water, but it’s not just involving individual homeowners' wells, it’s also involving municipal owned waterworks wells,” said Rubin
In Burrillville, MBTE was detected in a well that’s since been capped. That same well was floated as a source for water to cool a proposed power plant in the town, but the idea was met we criticism from residents who oppose the power plant, and ultimately rejected as too dangerous due to the contamination.
Rubin said the state has already spent millions on MTBE mitigation.
“The fact is that we do have roughly $65 million that has already gone out the door, that has already been spent on this, but we have to account for the future,” said Rubin.
The state's lawsuit aims to recoup that $65 million and more for future mitigation efforts. Rubin said the Attorney General’s office still has to research just how much any additional cleanup might cost.