MTBE may not be only chemical to worry about | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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MTBE may not be only chemical to worry about

While the first year of a ban on certain types of watercraft motors has reduced the presence of MTBE and other gasoline compounds in Lake Tahoe, researcher Glenn Miller says there still may be pollution problems associated with boating.

The reason is PAH, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. It is a large, toxic hydrocarbon molecule produced during combustion. Even the new generation of quieter, fuel-injected engines that comply with the ban don’t fully burn PAH.

It is unknown whether concentrations of PAH in Tahoe and other area lakes are enough to harm aquatic life. Further research on the molecule is planned.



“In the next five years, we will have a better idea of what the ecological and human impact of these substances are, and they will be regulated appropriately,” said Miller, director of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering.

PAH molecules are not soluble in water and are harmful to aquatic life. PAH toxicity increases when sunlight hits the molecules. In a lake as clear as Tahoe, where sunlight can penetrate deep into the water, that makes PAH even more of a concern.




“I would not be surprised if there were increasing restrictions on two-cycle engines due to emissions of combustion products, particularly PAH,” Miller said.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s ban went into effect June 1, eliminating most of the engines powering Jet Skis and personal watercraft. TRPA and research officials claim two-stroke engines cause more pollution than other engine types, dumping about a quarter of their fuel into the water unburned.

Researchers reported last month that MTBE and toluene, a compound often used as an indicator for other gasoline contaminants, had been reduced 50 percent in many places, and sometimes as much as 90 percent.


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