New York State bans fuel additive MTBE

New York has become the first state in the US to enact a law specifically banning the use of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).

The state’s governor, George Pataki, has approved legislation banning the use, sale or importation of fuels containing MTBE in the state from 2004. Violators face fines of up to $10,000.

A gasoline additive used to reduce vehicle emissions, MTBE is a suspected carcinogen and has been used in the US’s Reformulated Gasoline Program to improve air quality in smog-prone areas. However, the chemical has been found to pose a substantial threat to ground and surface waters. A recent report has suggested there have been more than 1,500 MTBE contamination incidents in New York State (see related story).

Environmentalists have welcomed the legislation. Sarah Meyland, executive director of Citizens Campaign For The Environment, said, “This decision will help protect water quality and public health on Long Island and across the State and the Governor’s decision makes a strong statement that Washington must also be part of the solution of getting MTBE out of gasoline and out of the environment.”

Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli said that, “It became clear early on that the only way to keep MTBE out of the water supply was to keep it out of our gasoline supply. With the adoption of this legislation, New York becomes the first state in the country to enact a law specifically banning the use of this possible human carcinogen. Hopefully, today’s action by the Governor marks the beginning of the end for MTBE.”

In November 1999, Governor Pataki directed the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to toughen the state’s standards for the amount of MTBE tolerated in surface and groundwater. The new guidelines, which were recently finalised, are the most stringent in the US and reduce allowable levels of MTBE from the previous standard of 50 ppb down to 10 ppb. Standards in the rest of the Northeast range from 35-100 ppb.

This summer, the State Department of Health will also issue new standards for allowable levels of MTBE in drinking water.

Pataki has also called on Congress to clarify state and federal authority to address the MTBE problem. The Governor said the EPA should review all the constituents of gasoline to ensure that its formulation doesn’t harm air quality, rather than addressing it in a piecemeal fashion.

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