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Clean Air Dirty Water Petrol Additive Banned In US

The Clinton Administration has moved to ban the petrol additive MTBE, an octane booster that has helped clean air but has begun to contaminate water supplies around the US. John Howard reports.

MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is now used in about a third of petrol sold in the US primarily in areas with smog problems.

"The time has come to take action," said Carol Browner, administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

"Americans deserve both clean air and clean water and never one at the expense of the other," she said.

As many as 9,000 community water wells near leaking storage tanks in 31 US states may be affected by contamination from MTBE, according to a study published by the Environmental Science and Technology organisation.

"This is great news. We are getting rid of a dangerous poison and taking a giant step towards clean water," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a democrat senator from California.

An EPA advisory panel recommended dramatically curtailing usage of MTBE because of potential water pollution and elimination of the oxygeneate standard in the US Clean Air Act.

With advances in refining, neither MTBE nor ethanol is still needed to maintain air quality, the oil industry contends.

"We think it wold be a mistake to substitute one mandate for another. That's how we got into this situation in the first place, Congress legislating the content of gasoline," said Edward Murphy, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute.

Various bills are being introduced in Congress to phase out the use of MTBE while protecting the ethanol market.

Note;- Additives are also placed in New Zealand petrol but at the time of writing it has not been confirmed whether MTBE is used as an additive in petrol here or the other additives which are used.


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