MTBE found in Kirkwood soil |

MTBE found in Kirkwood soil

California water officials hope the Kirkwood Ski Resort is able to start cleaning up a 400-foot-long contaminant plume that contains the controversial fuel additive MTBE within the next four to six weeks, an official said Tuesday.

Workers have completed some initial excavation, but contaminated groundwater has not yet been treated. A municipal well is threatened by the plume, but it has not been contaminated, said Brian Newman, an associate water resource engineer for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“They had a release from their underground tanks that feed the power plant. They don’t know exactly when the leak occurred. I believe we were informed around the first of the year,” Newman said.

“They’ve proposed a remediation system,” he added. “I’m in the process of reviewing it and making preliminary comments.”

The fuel tanks contained diesel fuel, of which MTBE is not a component. However, the same trucks and pipes are used in shipping gasoline and diesel fuel, and the additive likely could have been mixed into the diesel, Newman said. Additionally, at high altitudes, gasoline is often used in the winter to thin diesel fuel.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a fuel oxygenate used frequently in California. It has contaminated at least 10,000 groundwater sites in the state, including numerous around Lake Tahoe. While its potential health effects are still largely unknown, it renders water undrinkable even at low levels of contamination. It smells and tastes like turpentine.

Kirkwood officials did not return phone calls Tuesday.

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