- CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod has new information
on a story CBS News' Steve Kroft reported Sunday night on 60 Minutes.
- The story concerns a gasoline additive called MTBE, and
it spells trouble -- for drinking water. How bad is it? It could make you
wonder about what's coming out of the tap and how it got there.
- Methyl tertiary butyl ether is a mouthful to say. It
may also be our greatest unfolding environmental challenge. This chemical,
added to gasoline for cleaner air, is now polluting a great deal of the
nation's drinking water.
- As reported on 60 Minutes, 21 states have had wells shut
down due to MTBE groundwater contamination.
- "It's been shown, unequivocally, to cause cancer.
We want testing for the presence of MTBE where it's found. We want clean-up
if it can be cleaned up, and we want damages for people who's properties
were damaged," declares Lewis Saul, one of the lawyers now suing big
oil on behalf of well owners.
- Ten years ago, Congress passed the Clean Air Act, requiring
gasoline to burn cleaner. The oil companies chose to blend MTBE into gasoline
to meet the new standards.
- But that created a problem. This chemical spreads quickly
when mixed into groundwater, which happens with leaky underground storage
tanks all the time. Almost every state in the nation has found MTBE in
their ground water. California alone has 10,000 MTBE-contaminated sites.
- New York has identified some 1500 sites, 400 of them
on Long Island alone. "This will undoubtedly be proven to be the worst
single area with MTBE problems affecting drinking water. The reason is
that these people, three million of them, have no alternative source of
water," says Walter Hang, an expert in water contamination.
- Studies are now underway to determine the human health
risk. As for who's responsible, the oil companies say their hands were
tied. "There's a law out there that requires reformulated gasoline
contain 2% by rate of oxygen," says Bob Campbell, CEO of Sunoco. "And
the only practical alternative I have in order to comply with that law,
is that we use MTBE."
- Until Congress acts to fix the mess, the problem will
be addressed state by state, lawsuit by lawsuit.
- Copyright 2000, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved.