- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new panel of scientists and public health experts
will recommend how to protect U.S. drinking water from the gasoline additive
methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), the Environmental Protection Agency
said Friday. The chemical, which is suspected by environmental groups of
causing cancer, is estimated to be leaking from some 20,000 underground
storage tanks in California.
- In a letter to California Sen. Barbara
Boxer, a Democrat locked in a tight race for re-election next Tuesday,
the EPA also said it would fund a $1 million pilot project in California
to find ways of cleaning up contaminated drinking water supplies. The EPA
will assemble a panel of experts in public health, automative fuels and
environmental science to study whether continued use of MTBE in gasoline
is safe. The panel will give its recommendations to the EPA in six months,
said the agency's assistant administrator, Robert Perciasepe.
- ``We must greatly improve our abilities
to prevent and remedy releases of petroleum products, particularly those
which could affect public drinking water,'' Perciasepe said in the letter.
Boxer last month urged Congress to phase out the national use of MTBE,
and California officials are studying a possible end to statewide use.
Last year, Santa Monica was forced to close half its water supply because
of MTBE contamination. Fuel industry groups have said that banning MTBE
in California alone could cost consumers as much as $1.3 billion annually
in higher gasoline costs.
- The industry, which prefers tougher regulation
of fuel storage tanks, said cleaner burning fuel containing MTBE has eliminated
50 percent of benzene in auto emissions and helped reduce air pollution.
The use of MTBE as a fuel additive developed rapidly after 1990, when Congress
ordered the refining industry to develop more oxygenated fuels to reduce