Press Release

ANNAPOLIS, MD – Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., today announced new regulations to prevent MTBE and other petroleum products from reaching groundwater supplies in certain parts of Maryland. The regulations, which will be issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), will require installation of double-walled pipes on all regulated motor fuel underground storage systems and require built-in sensors to warn of leaks.

“For Maryland families that rely on wells,” Governor Ehrlich said, “these new measures will provide additional assurance that their water supplies are clean and safe from MTBE and other petroleum products. These are tough, but necessary regulations to strengthen our environmental laws.”

Pursuant to the federal Clean Air Act, MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether) replaced lead in gasoline in the 1980’s and is used to reduce carbon monoxide emissions from vehicles. MTBE makes important environmental and economic contributions by improving Maryland’s air quality and keeping gas prices affordable.

The emergency regulations will also require increased groundwater sampling, mandate regular testing of tanks and fittings, and define steps that gas station owners and others must take when underground storage systems are suspected of contaminating groundwater.

The regulations will apply in areas where wells are the primary source of household drinking water and local geology makes it impractical for homeowners to find a new water source. MDE will identify the areas and notify affected tank farm operators.

The regulatory review committee of the General Assembly must review and approve the proposed emergency regulations before they can become effective. They could be come effective as soon as October.

Service stations and other underground storage facilities in areas covered by the regulations will have 30 days after the effective date of the regulations to begin quarterly sampling of water in on-site domestic wells and tank field observation pipes. They will also be required to conduct annual tightness tests for fittings in catchment basins and containment sumps. Results must be reported to MDE.

If MTBE at levels greater than 20 parts per billion (ppb), more than 5 ppb of benzene or more than 100 ppb of total BETX (benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylenes) are found, the operator will be required to drill three groundwater monitoring wells and submit samples from the new wells to MDE. They will also be required to perform an advanced helium leak detention test, which is used to identify vapor leaks.

In addition to repairing all leaks immediately, the operator will be required to install a soil vapor extraction system in the tank area to remove vapors from the earth or other advanced technology to keep vapors within the tank system.

The MDE regulations also establish a timetable for installing double-walled piping with sensors and alarm systems. Double-walled piping will be required on all new and replacement systems, and systems that are 15 years old or older must be upgraded by January 1, 2006. All systems must be upgraded no later than January 1, 2009.

Since June, MDE has been investigating the presence of MTBE in private wells in the Upper Crossroads area of Harford County. The investigation has focused on an Exxon service station on Fallston Road, where a number of vapor leaks have been found and repaired.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that there is no measurable health effect from low level MTBE exposure. The EPA’s health advisory states that levels of contamination at or below 20 parts per billion (ppb) provide a large margin of safety from adverse health effects.