Jacksonville, Maryland is a quiet area in Northeast Baltimore County. The area is also known as Phoenix, Maryland.
Life there was generally uneventful until one fateful day in 2006 when an underground pipe at the Exxon Gas Station at Jarrettsville Pike & Paper Mill Roads began to leak — releasing 26,000 gallons of fuel into the ground. The leak was not detected for 37 days due to an alarm reset issue.
After that, Jacksonville homes in the area had their wells contaminated and house values plummeted. While homes in the neighborhoods used to sell for anywhere from $300,000 to over $1 million, they were basically unsaleable. The leak exposed homeowners to to methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), which has not been conclusively linked to cause cancer in humans, but has not been determined as safe either.
After a five month trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court, a jury awarded the homeowners about $150 million as compensation for the drop in their value of their Jacksonville property, their pain and suffering and for medical monitoring. The average award for the drop in property values was $693,000.
Forbes reported on the verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, also indicating that not all homeowners were happy with the result.
Though I am pleased that the jury found in the homeowners’ favor and that they were awarded compensation for this preventable mess, I am saddened that this beautiful area now has this stigma attached to it.
My hope is that the MTBE will filter its way out over the next few years, and this can just be a horrible memory, though I feel that the likelyhood of that happening is unfortunately slim.
****UPDATE February 27, 2013: The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned the fraud verdict, with the punitive damages award removed as well as parts of the compensatory damages. This is a big surprise and certainly upsetting for those affected by the spill and the verdict overturn. More information about the verdict change here: