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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Gas station ordered to compensate couple

BY JOHN WIHBEY
Star-Ledger Staff

Contaminants displaced pair in Roxbury

A federal judge has ordered a Roxbury gas station and ExxonMo bil to pay $4,000 a month for temporary housing to a couple displaced by gasoline and fumes contamination, attorneys involved with the case said yesterday.

Anthony and Maria Sanguino, who are expecting their first child this fall, left their Succasunna home in April after a three-year battle with an adjacent Route 10 gas station, now a Citgo, owned by George Bain.

Gas fumes released earlier this year during a cleanup effort, which was funded by Bain, prompted the Sanguinos to leave their home.

"We feel vindicated that the judge agreed with our position. We feel that a large weight has been lifted," Anthony Sanguino said. Still, he said, there is a "long fight ahead."

The state Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that the well water of the couple's West Street home was contaminated in 2003 by methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE. The controversial chemical has polluted water supplies across the country, requir ing an estimated $29 billion in cleanup costs.

A lawsuit filed by the couple was consolidated in U.S. District Court in Manhattan with many larger cases involving MTBE, which will be banned in New Jersey as of 2009.

The court injunction allows the Sanguinos to collect $2,000 each from the station and ExxonMobil every month for one year or until "local authorities decide it is safe to move back into the plaintiffs' home," according to a July 21 order by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin.

The Sanguinos are staying with relatives in Parsippany.

David Montag, an attorney who represents Bain's Automotive, declined to comment.

ExxonMobil has maintained that it had no business relationship with the gas station after 2000 and "cannot be held liable and should not have been named as a party to this lawsuit," spokeswoman Prem Nair said in a statement.

Stuart Lieberman, the Sanguinos' attorney, said the judge's order gives the couple "some hope" while litigation continues.

John Wihbey covers Roxbury Township.