MTBE Dangers To Drinking
Water Were Known
Report Claims
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 Bee.
"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 reported.
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 Sacramento Bee.
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.