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February 25, 2000     Cape Gazette
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February 25, 2000
 

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Additive Continued from page 1 include oxygenates at 1i percent by volume in a gallon of gasoline, one of the highest rates mandated nationwide. Sussex County dis- tributors voluntarily signed on to the mandate. In the five years since the man- date was issued, its results are be- ing noted not so much in the qual- ity of air, but rather in the quality of the ground water of the states using MTBE; the news is not good. By 1997, MTBE began showing up in private-wells in Delaware, mostly in Sussex and Kent coun- ties. To date, state environmental agents have condemned 21 wells here. In each case, the companies responsible for the gasoline leak- ages have footed the bill for new wells and carbon filters for the af- fected homeowners. The leaking underground storage tanks were also condemned. Gary Patterson, executive direc- tor of the Delaware Petroleum Council, acknowledged the grow- ing problems with MTBE and said: "Our industry didn't want this product to begin with, but the federal government told us what to put in gasoline, so we had no choice." Patterson praises the state's underground storage tank program that identified almost all the state's leaky underground gasoline tanks in the 1980s and oversaw their removal and re- placement. That state oversight continues, as gas station operators are required to measure the gaso- line in their tanks daily and com- pare the reduced gallonage to what was sold that day at the pumps. Any irregularities in the daily reports will cause Depart- ment of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) agents to check soils around the tanks for signs of leakage. "Delaware is one of the top two states in the nation in its tank re- placements and cleanup efforts as part of the federally mandated un- derground storage tank program of the 1980s. Fortunately, our state has not had the horror stories reported in other states," said Pat- terson. "That's due to our good oversight and the work done by Pat Ellis, who heads the state's un- derground storage tank program at DNREC. She's one of the top MTBE experts in the nation, and we're really lucky to have her." "This MTBE is an insidious chemical, in that it literally races through the soil if it's spilled at the pump or leaks from a storage tank," said Ellis. "It's very soluble, doesn't stick to soil and doesn't biodegrade in the ground like oth- er gasoline additives. When it's spilled, it enters the ground, quickly travels to the water table and winds up in the aquifers. Once it's in the water, it remains there for a long time. We know it's a po- tentially dangerous chemical to humans, but we don't really know how dangerous." The Agency for Toxic Sub- stances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' public health service, characterizes MTBE as "a flam- mable liquid which may cause nausea, nose and throat irritations and nervous system effects when inhaled." The agency states that studies of mice and rats breathing MTBE for a prolonged period found that mice developed liver cancer and rats developed kidney cancer. The ATSDR official word on MTBE health risks includes a warning that: "Drinking or breath- ing MTBE may cause nausea, nose and throat irritation, and nervous system effects such as mental confusion." No studies have been conducted on drinking MTBE, and the agency reports there is no evi- dence that the chemical causes cancer in humans. MTBE has not been classified as a carcinogen by the EPA. However, the ATSDR report notes the EPA has recently issued guidelines recommending that, to protect children, states should be- gin monitoring wells to see if MTBE is presen t. It sets guidelines for drinking water levels not to exceed 4 mil- ligrams per liter of water for an exposure of up to 10 days or 3 milligrams per liter of water for longer term exposure. There is no data on ethanol in the ATSDR files, which could in- dicate it has not been classified as a toxic substance. Coincidentally, Midwest states which use ethanol as the additive to promote better gasoline com- bustion have not reported any gasoline-associated water con- tamination problems, which could indicate it does not possess the soil-avoidance, water-soluble characteristics of MTBE. California, which was mandat- ed to add oxygenates to gasoline at a rate of 14 percent by volume, was the first state to identify MTBE in its drinking water sup- plies. Public wells have been con- demned there and California has since called for the EPA to insti- tute a total ban on MTBE by 2002. New York has moved to ban MTBE by 2004. Maryland, which last week announced that MTBE had contaminated more than 200 wells, has scheduled a special hearing in its House of Delegates to address the issue. No public water supplies in Delaware have been contaminat- ed with MTBE, said Ellis, most likely because those wells are much deeper than private wells. But the appearance of MTBE contamination in private wells has caused the state to advise public water suppliers to begin testing for the presence of MTBE. Sallie Callanen, chair of the Sierra Club's Southern Delaware' Group, said this week the envi- ronmental club is currently in a fact-finding stage on MTBE and its affects .on local aquifers. "I've been told that DNREC is also de- veloping an action paper on how to deal with this MTBE problem," Callanen said. "We're watching that effort closely to see where Delaware heads oll this gasoline additive issue. It appears now that we should move away from using MTBE and maybe toward using ethanol." Sen. Harris B. McDowell Ill, D-Wilmington North, is chairman of the senate committee on energy and transit and serves as Majority Whip of the senate. McDowell learned of the MTBE contamina- tion in Delaware and scheduled senate committee hearings on the issue Jan. 24, but the hearings were canceled because of snow. McDowell's staff said he plans to hold those hearings soon after the General Assembly reconvenes March 15. One of the issues Mc- Dowell intends to explore is whether Delaware can feasibly switch from using MTBE to using ethanol. The petroleum council's Patter- son is somewhat hesitant over the move toward producing ethanol on Delmarva. "Sure, it has its environmental advantages, and the farmers like the idea since it would be a new market for their corn," he noted. "But we don't produce enough C/E 6ATTIE, "lriday, F'eb"rua  -Mar'ch' 2, )1)"17" corn on the peninsula to feed our chicken flocks, so it's doubtful we could produce enough ethanol for gasoline. And ethanol doesn't transport well; in fact, it has to be blended into the gasoline at the rack. by the local distributor. That would make it difficult to use any- where far from the ethanol-pro- ducing plants." Brian Pepper, of the Pep-Up chain of gas stations, said this week he blames the entire MTBE issue on the federal government and wants them to correct it. "The feds created most of the current problems in the gas indus- try because they began telling us what to put into gasoline without first studying its possible affects on the environment," Pepper said. "What they should do now is con- duct their studies and set one for- mula for the entire nation to abide by. It's the only right way to han- dle this issue. Make sure the in- gredients are safe, and then make sure everybody uses the same gas formula." Congressman Mike Castle has also followed the MTBE issue and its affects on drinking water at home and around the nation. In a statement to the Cape Gazette Thursday, Feb. 17, Castle said: "I am extremely concerned about the reports of MTBE contamination " in various drinking water supplies around the country. Our first pri- ority should be to thoroughly un- derstand the real human health impacts of MTBE. That is why I'm co-sponsoring H.R. 3536, the Drinking Water Protection Act of 2000." Castle said his proposed legisla- tion would: "Require the National Institutes of Health to conduct a comprehensive study on the health effects of ingesting and in- haling MTBE. The legislation also will direct the EPA to research what treat- ment technology will be neces- sary to remove MTBE from drinking water supplies and would require public water sys- tems to immediately begin moni- toring for MTBE contamination." The one good aspect of MTBE is that it smells much like a com- bination of ether and turpentine and most people can easily detect the chemical odor in a glass of water. If anyone suspects their drink- ing water is contaminated, they should contact the Department of Natural Resources and Environ- mental Control at 302-739-5072. We're not only burning the midnight oil, We're it' We're changing oil and extending our hours to serve you better, We now have convenient Thursday evening hours until 8 p.m. And, we have the best prices around. For a change, oil* or otherwise, come to CP Diver, your GM store at the shore. 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