Meyers gas leak triggers investigation |

Meyers gas leak triggers investigation

Patrick McCartney

High levels of a gasoline additive beneath a Meyers service station will force the South Tahoe Public Utility District to conduct tests to determine the extent of contamination.

On Tuesday, district directors approved hiring a consulting firm to begin a $110,000 regional investigation of the apparent leak responsible for contamination by the additive MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, beneath the Beacon service station.

Preliminary tests indicated levels as high as 28,000 parts per billion of the additive, which is blended with gasoline to lower carbon monoxide emissions. The South Tahoe utility has already detected MTBE in its nearby Arrowhead well at a relatively low level of 3.3 ppb, well below existing health standards and below the taste and odor threshold.

But nervous district officials, who have already experienced MTBE contamination at the Tata Lane well, say the water supply would be further threatened if the additive spread to the next closest well, the Bakersfield Well.

“We want to find out, starting from our own well, how we’re being impacted,” said Rick Hydrick, the district’s operations director. “These wells are needed during the summer. If the Bakersfield well shuts down, we’re in trouble.”

The district has been in talks with representatives of the three service stations that flank the Arrowhead well, planning how it will conduct tests to measure the extent of any contamination plume.

“We’re happy with the air of cooperation with the potential responsible parties and Lahontan” Regional Water Quality Control Board, said Chris Strohm, the board’s vice president.

The irony of finding contamination beneath the Beacon service station is that the owner replaced four 10,000-gallon fuel tanks just two years ago, and the soil at that time was tested. A problem could have developed with faulty material, faulty installation or from spills, said Jim Jones, the board president.

Also, the additive MTBE has been suspected in other cases of eroding elastic sealants in fuel tanks, with leaks reported from underground fuel tanks that are new or have been tested and found airtight.

A contractor will begin drilling more test wells on March 23, and work will continue around the clock for six days. The investigation will determine the scope of remedial work to remove the gasoline additive and other contamination from the soil.

The only good news revealed at the special board meeting Tuesday was that the district will probably be eligible to receive full compensation for the field study from a state fund created last year with the passage of a bill by Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl.

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