CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WJZY) – Four-year-old twins, Quinn and Reece, don’t look the same, don’t act the same, but they do share something in common.
An excessive level of the chemical Methyl tertiary-butyl ether in their systems.
MTBE is a gasoline additive that has been banned in North Carolina since 2008.
Lisa Simonsen first discovered the remnants of MTBE in her daughter Quinn, who suffers from autism, after Dr. Anne Hines ordered a variety of tests.
Hines was working to learn if Quinn’s autism was caused by something genetic, toxic, environmental, nutritional, or something else.
When Quinn’s urine test returned at almost twice the maximum of the test’s high end of MTBE, Simonsen got her other daughter Reece tested. Reece’s numbers were even higher.
Simonsen also had the presence of MTBE remnants in her system.
When the doctor received the results, she asked Simonsen what was going on in her neighborhood after dismissing Simonsen’s initial concern that the cause was her new home.
When Simonsen mentioned the Colonial Pipeline gas leak a mile from her home, Hines said she believed Colonial’s gas spill was the cause.
Colonial Pipeline said it is aware MTBE is banned and the monitoring wells from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s January 2021 site assessment shows the presence of MTBE almost 20 times over the state limit.
Although the leak was detected in August 2020, it is unclear when it began and it is unclear when and how Quinn and Reece were infected.
They were tested in October 2020.
Hines said toxic chemicals can be found in air, soil, and water and can cause liver damage, kidney damage, neurological damage that can predispose children to cancer.
Hines added that air monitoring is constantly changing from speed to concentration as well as other factors.
Simonsen said her job’s insurance doesn’t cover tests and treatments.
“I tried to have children for 10 years and had a son who passed away prematurely and so my girls, I’ve wanted them forever. They’ve just been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. So when I found out this news, it was scary because I wanted to do everything I could to make sure they’re safe and they’re healthy,” Simonsen said.
Simonsen hasn’t filed a lawsuit and isn’t placing blame – she just wants the state and Colonial Pipeline to investigate.
“Yes, it’s an environmental issue but it’s a health issue too – I don’t see many people addressing the health part of this.”
Colonial Pipeline provided this statement:
Our hearts go out to this family, as no one wants to see a child fall ill. Immediately after learning of the family’s concerns from NCDEQ in December, Colonial Pipeline analyzed data from environmental monitors and shared that data with NCDEQ. This data confirmed that there is no pathway of exposure that would link these conditions to the release site that is more than a mile away from their home.
The family’s home is located 1.15 miles west-southwest of the area in which our product release has been contained.
Air monitoring conducted during the nearly two-week period after the release – when product recovery was more likely to generate vapors – detected trace levels of MTBE three times. Two of the detections, Aug. 17 and 18, were at the monitor station closest to the release site. The other monitor, with a single detection on august 17, was the next closest monitor station to the release site.
The two air monitor stations installed closest to the family’s home both recorded no detections of MTBE before being removed on Aug. 27, 2020.
Huntersville-Concord Road was closed in the area of the release until Aug. 24, greatly limiting outside access to the site during the initial recovery phase.
MTBE has not been used as a gasoline additive in the U.S. since 2006.
However, some refineries still add it to fuel that is designated for export to overseas markets. Because of this, there can be trace amounts of MTBE in gasoline due to the use of the same refining equipment to produce various types of gasoline for both domestic use and that for export.