State says MTBE not a big problem in Nevada
State environmental officials say the gasoline additive MTBE isn’t a big problem in Nevada’s groundwater so far.
The additive has contaminated several wells in the Tahoe Basin and is causing more problems in California and other parts of the nation. It reaches groundwater primarily through leaky service station storage tanks but is often more difficult to get rid of than the gasoline itself.
Doug Zimmerman, chief of the Division of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Corrective Actions, said his office has been watching for MTBE (which stands for methyl tertiary butyl ether) more than two years now. He said the problem is that there is still no official federal standard setting a maximum allowable amount of the compound in drinking water.
“Since there’s no maximum standards, Carson City and other communities are not required by law to analyze for MTBE,” said Zimmerman.
Nonetheless, he said Las Vegas, Clark County and Washoe County are watching for it, as is his staff. He said they use the drinking water advisory standard of 20-40 parts per billion.
Tom Hoffert of the Carson City Water Utility said the additive was not detected in tests of city wells last year but that his department will make a special effort in upcoming tests this spring to make sure.
He said Carson City water customers will get a short briefing on the issue along with their May water bills. He assured city residents that utility officials plan to keep a close eye on any potential contamination.
“We’ll do a section along with their bills on it to ease the minds of Carson City residents,” he said.
Zimmerman said most of Nevada gets groundwater from deep aquifers and that the additive has apparently not reached them.
He said one well in North Las Vegas has proven contaminated but that most other parts of the state are clean.
“I don’t see a widespread serious problem,” he said. “We’re trying to get it before it becomes a problem.”
He also disagreed with recent TV news reports which he said left the impression the substance is extremely difficult to remove from the water supply.
“There are ways of getting it out,” he said, adding that simply blowing air through the water carries MTBE away and that there are other methods available as well.
“It’s not a new issue for us,” said Zimmerman.