(CN) – A federal judge ordered the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to release any documents it may have regarding its deliberations on the risk and benefits of the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).
In doing so, U.S. District Judge Shire Schneindlin granted the request of defendants in a product liability case relating to the additives they put in their gasoline products.
The state agency originally filed suit against several petroleum companies in 2008, alleging that the companies “failed to provide adequate warnings about the problems with MTBE.”
MTBE is a chemical that raises the oxygen level when added to gasoline that some argue contributes to causing cancer. The EPA’s website has concluded that “available data [on MTBE] is inadequate to quantify health risks of the additive at low exposure levels in drinking water, but the data supports the conclusion that it is a potential human carcinogen at high doses.” It is currently banned in 20 states.
The ruling says that the agency needs to release the records as part of the defendants’ request for discovery because they cannot use the information “as a sword rather than a shield,” meaning the materials might show during a trial that the NJDEP would have heeded stronger warnings about MTBE if given them by the companies.
The ruling says the defendants successfully argued that “NJDEP’s knowledge about the risks and benefits of MTBE and ethanol is highly relevant to the determination of what Defendants allegedly should or should not have known; and NDEP’s views on those risks and benefits is highly relevant to the reasonableness of Defendants’ views.”
According to the ruling, the defendants also wish to present evidence that the benefits of adding MTBE to gasoline outweigh the risks.