- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

BALTIMORE (AP) — Vapors from a gasoline additive cited as a cancer threat appear to be leaking from supposedly leak-free underground storage tanks, an EPA official said at a groundwater contamination conference.

The official’s comments come after the announcement earlier this month by the Ehrlich administration of new regulations intended to prohibit leaking fuel-storage tanks from polluting aquifers that provide drinking water for Marylanders who have wells.

Cliff Rothenstein, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Underground Storage Tanks, said at the conference last week that he was concerned about reports from New Hampshire and other states that vapors from the additive — methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE — were escaping from underground fuel-storage systems that had been upgraded to prevent leaks.

“For years, our emphasis has been on preventing and detecting liquid releases” of fuel, Mr. Rothenstein said.

“We need to get to the bottom of this. We need to find out the source of the problem and … make sure systems are both liquid- and vapor-tight.”

The new rules drafted by the Maryland Department of the Environment will require double-walled pipes and sensors to be installed on all underground motor fuel-storage systems in areas of the state where wells are the primary source for household drinking water.

Service stations and other underground storage facilities in areas covered by the regulations also will have to conduct quarterly sampling of water if they have wells or tank field observation pipes on the premises.

Stations that are at least 15 years old must install the new pipes and sensors by Jan. 1, 2006. Newer stations will have until Jan. 1, 2009.

The announcement came after the disclosure that 169 wells in the Fallston area of Harford County were contaminated with MTBE, an additive that reduces air pollution by making gasoline burn cleaner.

MTBE has been identified as a potential cause of cancer.

Gary Lynn, chief of petroleum remediation for New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services, said sensitive “tracer” testing of one station confirmed the loss of MTBE from tanks that had been pressurized slightly by recycled gas vapors.

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