Bill would study additive’s dangers |

Bill would study additive’s dangers

by Andy Bourelle

SACRAMENTO – Lake Tahoe’s representative in the California Assembly introduced a bill Tuesday that would require a comprehensive study of the health effects of a polluting fuel additive.

While officials from the MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) problem-plagued South Tahoe Public Utility District are pleased with the effort, they hope the bill doesn’t slow a fight already under way to get the additive out of gasoline.

“I don’t think the results are going to be, ‘Great, put it on your cereal every morning,'” said Dennis Cocking, spokesman for the district. “While the information should be useful, the state and EPA should not be waiting on the results. We know we have a problem we need to deal with now.”

Thomas “Rico” Oller, R-San Andreas, introduced Assembly Bill 1812 Tuesday, which would require the state’s Department of Health Services and Water Resources Control Board to jointly study and report on the health effects of MTBE leaking into groundwater, lakes and streams.

“The meddlers in the federal and state environmental bureaucracies forced MTBE upon us, and now our water is polluted,” Oller said. “This is typical of heavy-handed envirocrats who issue mandates first and think about consequences later. Our bill will require them to research the harmful health effects MTBE is having on us and our children.”

Methyl tertiary butyl ether is a gasoline additive used widely in the United States and especially in California.

It has contaminated as many as 14,000 sites in California, and Gov. Gray Davis has ordered it phased out by the end of 2002.

A European study in the mid-1990s linked the additive to cancer in mice. The danger to humans is still unknown. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a possible human carcinogen.

Officials from the utility, which has closed more than a third of its wells because of contamination, say the problem exists regardless of the health effects. The additive renders water undrinkable at low levels of contamination because of its turpentine-like taste and odor.

“You can even make the assumption it’s not highly toxic,” Cocking said. “But if it makes water smell and taste bad at low levels, and you run the risk of soiling your water supply, you need to get rid of the stuff.”

Most South Shore gas stations are now MTBE-free.