‘MTBE police’ inspect South Shore stations
El Dorado County officials set up a sting operation Tuesday to determine if gas stations were in compliance with the MTBE ban that went into effect Friday on the California side of the South Shore.
“We are checking fuel from the nozzles, and we won’t have the results in until next week,” said Ginger Huber, manager of the Lake Tahoe office of El Dorado County Environmental Management. “We’re primarily checking those stations that weren’t previously in compliance.”
The Meyers Beacon, Roadrunner, Swiss Mart, Stop and Save, Lake Tahoe Gas and Car Wash and Tahoe Tom’s all tested positive for MTBE last summer, when the California Air Resources Board performed tests. Twelve other South Shore stations have been serving MTBE-free gas over the last year.
El Dorado County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance last month that made it illegal to sell gasoline with MTBE in the Lake Tahoe Basin portion of the county after April 27. Station owners who are still selling gas with MTBE after that date face fines up to $1,000 and six months in jail.
Huber said any tests that turn up positive will be handled by the district attorney.
MTBE, a gasoline additive, has contaminated drinking water in the Lake Tahoe Basin. South Tahoe Public Utility District, which serves South Shore on the California side with drinking water, was forced to close 12 of its 34 wells because of MTBE contamination, Dennis Cocking, the utility district’s spokesman, said.
“This (testing) is the best news we’ve had with MTBE since this whole mess started in 1997,” Cocking said. “This is light at the end of the tunnel and we can start focusing our effort on remediation.”
Cocking said original levels of MTBE in California’s gasoline were about 12 percent and the ordinance recognizes any level of 2 percent or less as being MTBE-free.
He said any decline in the level would indicate an improvement.
“It would indicate that the stations are complying, and that would eliminate 99 percent of our threat,” he said. “The underground storage tanks are the area of biggest concern.”
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