Orange County, Calif., finds MTBE in aquifer

Oct. 28, 2000
A smelly, bad-tasting fuel additive that may cause cancer has been traced, for the first time, from Orange County gas stations to the deep aquifer — the same level from which the county draws more than half its drinking water.

By PAT BRENNAN

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif., Oct. 26, 2000 (Knight Ridder/Tribune)— A smelly, bad-tasting fuel additive that may cause cancer has been traced, for the first time, from Orange County gas stations to the deep aquifer — the same level from which the county draws more than half its drinking water.

No drinking water is yet threatened by the chemical, MTBE, which has contaminated shallow ground water throughout the county and the state. The deep aquifer in Fountain Valley is not used for drinking, and cleanup plans are under way.

But tracing the chemical from the surface to deep ground water proves what experts have been predicting for years: that water can find pathways from shallow ground water, now heavily contaminated with MTBE, into the deep reservoir of clean water the county relies on heavily.

"Eventually, that water is connected to the greater ground-water basin," said Roy Herndon, hydrogeologist for the Orange County Water District.

If left untreated, the MTBE beneath Fountain Valley could migrate to drinking-water wells within five to 10ten years, said district spokesman Ron Wildermuth.

The MTBE turned up this spring during sampling at a depth of 55 to 60 feet. It was traced to shallower ground water that had been contaminated by seepage from underground fuel- storage tanks beneath area gas — Arco stations, possibly including an Arco station.

Arco and other gasoline distributors are being sued by the Orange County District Attorney's Ooffice. The suit contends that Arco and Thrifty Oil have negligently allowed MTBE and other contaminants to leak from underground tanks.

Arco is working with the county to clean up the Fountain Valley spill and prevent contamination of drinking-water supplies, said Karen Hodel of the Orange County Health Care Agency.

To see more of The Orange County Register, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.ocregister.com

© 2000, The Orange County Register, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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