Gas station to close because of MTBE |

Gas station to close because of MTBE

Andy Bourelle

Before being made to, the South Lake Tahoe USA gas station is voluntarily shutting down because it may pose a threat to the groundwater from leaking MTBE.

Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board Associate Engineering Geologist Lisa Dernbach said Lahontan was informed by USA’s owners -USA Petroleum out of Agoura Hills, Calif., – that the gas station would shut down.

She said Harold Singer, Lahontan’s executive director, advised the company to shut down the station because the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Protection likely would force it to be shut down.

“They were going to have to do it anyway,” Dernbach said. “It was our advice that finally got them to do it before being told to.”

Dernbach said Lahontan has given the station a Cleanup and Abatement Order, of which the company still is out of compliance. However, USA does have a portion of its groundwater treatment plan under way. Four wells are pumping out contaminated groundwater. The water goes through a “pump and treat” system, and the water, without any MTBE contamination, is disposed of in the sewer system.

At Lahontan’s last meeting – where the board agreed to uphold the $84,000 fine against the Meyers Beacon allegedly leaking MTBE into the groundwater -the board directed the staff to pursue the potential of fining USA.

Last week, three more of the South Tahoe Public Utility District’s wells – Tata Lane wells Nos. 1, 2 and 3 – were shut down as precautionary measures because of the MTBE plume believed to have come from the USA gas station. Tata Lane well No. 4 was shut down July 23.

Well No. 4 had an “air stripper” which treated MTBE-contaminated water before it reached customers. However, levels of MTBE, before being treated, reached 37 parts per billion. Although only contaminated water with MTBE at 1 part per billion came out of the treatment, district water experts had feared more MTBE would break through.

STPUD officials feared that Tata Lane wells 1, 2 and 3 could potentially pull the underground MTBE plume in their directions.

Dernbach said MTBE has been detected at the USA site at levels as high as 30,000 parts per billion. A level of 35 parts per billion is acceptable by California law.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a colorless liquid used as a gasoline additive. It is used to reduce air pollution from automobile exhaust. However, if it gets in a drinking water supply, it gives the water an unpleasant taste and odor, similar to turpentine. Officials believe it may cause health risks.

A spokesman at USA Petroleum was reached Wednesday but said he could not comment on the issue.

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