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Cleaner Air May Equal More Contaminated Water.

With the impetus of state bans looming, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking another look at MTBE, the gasoline additive that helps reduce air pollution. There are concerns that the chemical is contaminating the nation's drinking water.

The EPA's actions follow several state efforts to ban the sale and use of MTBE by oil refineries because of groundwater contamination from spills around underground storage tanks.

As it now stands, the federal Clean Air Act requires the sale of reformulated gasoline, containing MTBE or a similar chemical such as ethanol, in areas that fail to meet the national smog standards. Ethanol is considered the best candidate to replace MTBE, although there are concerns about its propensity to create other types of air pollution. The ethanol industry would also have to significantly increase production to fill the void left by MTBE.

California will ban the use of MTBE by the end of 2002. State officials also have asked EPA to waive federal reformulated gasoline requirements so that the state would not have to substitute ethanol for MTBE. South Dakota passed legislation that limits MTBE content in gasoline to no more than 2 percent by weight.

And state legislatures across the country have debated the MTBE issue this year. Bills that would ban the chemical have been introduced in 10 states: Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, South Dakota and West Virginia.

"MTBE has become a widespread contaminant in surface and groundwater supplies throughout New York state," says New York Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli. "We have to take action to protect drinking water." Legislation to limit the use of MTBE, sponsored by DiNapoli, passed both houses this spring.

Other legislation directs state agencies to study MTBE contamination and examine its health effects. Maryland, New York, Rhode Island and Virginia are considering such legislation. Illinois may require labels on all fuel dispensers that warn consumers that they are purchasing fuel that contains MTBE. New Hampshire has introduced legislation that would permit the state to enter into discussions with other Northeastern states about finding a regional gasoline that contains less MTBE.
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Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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