MTBE Threatens Wells

The gasoline additive MTBE has leaked into 48 wells in public water systems serving hundreds of thousands of people throughout the state, state records show.

The San Francisco Chronicle analyzed data from the Water Resources Control Board and the Department of Health Services and found that leaks of the additive from nearly 1,200 underground tank sites threaten the drinking water supply of millions of Californians.

MTBE is added to gasoline to make it burn cleaner, but it has been linked to cancer. Oil companies have until the end of 2002 to phase out its use.

State records show the 1,189 underground tank sites leaking MTBE are within 1,000 feet of public supply wells or on vulnerable drinking water aquifers. An additional 1,729 leaking tank sites father away from drinking water wells also could be a threat.

More than 2,500 public drinking water systems that serve 30.5 million -- or 90 percent of the state's population -- have been sampled for the carcinogen. Of the 8,311 groundwater sources sampled, 48 contained MTBE.

A judge in San Jose, Calif. last week signed an agreement forcing five major oil companies to clean up sites they own that have been contaminated MTBE.
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