- The oil industry knew about MTBE threats
to drinking water before the controversial gasoline additive was introduced
in California, according to an article in the March 16 edition of the Sacramento
- "America's fuel industry knew about
the risk to drinking water from MTBE years before domestic refineries more
than doubled the chemical's volume in gasoline, but manufacturers marketed
the product as an environmental improvement anyway," the newspaper
- The Sacramento Bee claims to have technical
papers and conference presentations in which environmental engineers for
refineries and government regulators predicted that MTBE could become a
lingering groundwater menace as its usage increased.
- Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has called
on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the reports.
- "These allegations warrant immediate
EPA investigation," Boxer wrote EPA Administrator Carol Browner.
- "In response to the allegation that
it withheld this information from EPA and other government regulators,
industry officials maintain that EPA was well aware of these threats when
it gave the industry the regulatory go ahead to use MTBE on a widespread
basis," Boxer said.
- She noted a recent University of California
study estimating that "the costs of cleaning up MTBE-contaminated
drinking water will be on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars
a year in California alone."
- "As we assign responsibility for
these huge cleanup costs, we must know whether the fuel industry withheld
information which would have led to EPA to disapprove MTBE's use in the
first instance," Boxer wrote Browner.
- Boxer asked Browner to "in particular
please report to me whether the fuel industry withheld information from
EPA during the regulatory processes that led to the widespread use of MTBE."
- Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.,
was reported drafting a letter to California Gov. Gray Davis "urging
him to ban specifically MTBE as soon as possible," according to the
- When blended with gasoline, MTBE adds
oxygen to it, supposedly improving air quality by decreasing toxic emissions.
However studies have indicated that the additive is carcinogenic to laboratory
animals. And nationwide, the list is growing of water supplies contaminated
with MTBE from surface spills, storm water runoff, chemical precipitation
and leaking underground tanks.
- For more information, contact Dean Reed,
Fuels for the Future, (202)223-3532.