U.S. Water News Online
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A widely used gasoline additive that
makes cars pollute less but may cause cancer has been fouling water
systems in Maryland, authorities said.
The additive, known as MTBE, has been detected in about 210
private wells and 140 monitoring wells drilled near gas stations
since 1998, state officials say. It has also turned up in 66 of the
more than 1,000 public water systems in Maryland, which began testing
The state Department of the Environment does not know the full
extent of contamination and is asking lawmakers for permission to use
$150,000 to raise the number of groundwater inspectors from 21 to 24.
``We don't think that we have a crisis situation here,'' Rick
Collins, director of the department's Water Management Division,
said. However, he continued, ``I don't want you to go away thinking
everything's under control.''
Small amounts of MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, first came
into use in gasoline in the 1970s to boost octane and later, in
greater amounts, to ``oxygenate'' gas, reducing pollution coming out
of automobile tailpipes.
Following the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1990, federal
authorities ordered the phase-in of oxygenates in gasoline sold in
the nation's smoggiest urban areas.
Terry Wigglesworth, executive director of the Oxygenated Fuels
Association, an Arlington, Va.-based trade group, said Maryland has
enjoyed tremendously cleaner air because of MTBE.
But concerns about the petrochemical arose in the mid-1990s when a
European study linked MTBE to liver and kidney tumors in mice. The
danger to humans is unknown, but the EPA considers it a ``potential
The Environmental Protection Agency reversed policy last summer
and recommended its use be sharply curtailed.
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