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Gasoline additive leak threatens California drinking water

California environmental data The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (August 27, 2001 10:09 a.m. EDT) - The gasoline additive MTBE - which has been linked to cancer - has leaked into 48 wells in public water systems serving hundreds of thousands of people throughout the state, state records show.

The San Francisco Chronicle analyzed data from the Water Resources Control Board and the Department of Health Services and found that leaks of the additive from nearly 1,200 underground tank sites threaten the drinking water supply of millions of Californians.

The data do not include tens of thousands of private wells in California and hundreds of thousands nationwide. Such water supplies are not regulated by public agencies and generally are not tested for MTBE unless holding tanks buried nearby cause concern.

"The regulators should use the data that's being collected to identify the sites that pose the greatest threat, those closest to drinking water wells," said Anne Happel, a member of the Environmental Protection Agency's blue ribbon panel on MTBE.

MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is added to gasoline to make it burn cleaner, but it has been linked to cancer. Oil companies have until the end of 2002 to phase out its use.

State records show the 1,189 underground tank sites leaking MTBE are within 1,000 feet of public supply wells or on vulnerable drinking water aquifers. An additional 1,729 leaking tank sites father away from drinking water wells also could be a threat.

More than 2,500 public drinking water systems that serve 30.5 million - or 90 percent of the state's population - have been sampled for the carcinogen. Of the 8,311 groundwater sources sampled, 48 contained MTBE.

Just last week, a judge in San Jose signed an agreement forcing five major oil companies to clean up sites they own that have been contaminated MTBE.

-- Martin Thompson (, August 27, 2001


Ethenol to the rescue. I believe this is supposed to start at the end of 2002, as a substitute.

-- Uncle Fred (, August 27, 2001.

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