MTBE will be labled on pumps |

MTBE will be labled on pumps

AP and staff report

SACRAMENTO (AP) – Starting this fall, most California drivers will see something new at their local filling stations: labels identifying the pumps that contain gasoline with the anti-pollution additive MTBE.

The Air Resources Board approved the new plan Thursday as part of Gov. Gray Davis’ order to phase out the controversial compound by 2002.

”Initially, the vast majority of service stations will almost certainly have to post these labels, but we think during the three-year-period there should be an increasing amount of non-MTBE gas available,” said board spokesman Allan Hirsch.

Gasoline with 0.6 percent or less MTBE will be designated as MTBE-free.

Bob Baer, general manager of the South Tahoe Public Utility District, attended and, with some misgivings, supported the proposal.

Baer said labeling gas which may have a small percentage of the additive as ‘MTBE-free’ would be misleading to the public.

“We understand that the Air Resources Board needs to work within the realities of chemical law,” Baer said. “If cross contamination by MTBE is a fact of life, then the gasoline should be labeled to reflect that. A more accurate label would say that the gasoline ‘contains more than X percent MTBE.'”

MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is added to gasoline to make it burn more completely and thus reduce air emissions. The compound, long viewed as potentially hazardous by environmentalists, was added to fuels in the 1980s in relatively small amounts, but later increased because of federal air quality rules.

The petroleum industry has said the potential health hazards of MTBE have not been determined.

About nine out of every 10 gallons of gasoline sold in California contain MTBE.

As MTBE use is reduced, other additives are being considered to help fuel combustion, such as ethanol, which is used widely in the Midwest.

The board’s action followed Davis’ MTBE phaseout order, which called for labeling, and the desire of the board to provide help to consumers.

”The idea is that motorists who wish to factor MTBE into their purchasing decision will now be able to do so,” Hirsch said.

-Tribune Staff Writer Andy Bourelle contributed to this report.

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