The Bush administration has quietly shelved an effort to ban a gasoline additive that contaminates drinking water.
The Environmental Protection Agency, under the Clinton administration, said low levels of MTBE can make water undrinkable due to its offensive taste and odor. People say the contaminated water tastes like turpentine.
But the Bush administration is letting Congress handle the issue. The regulation is bogged down there over a proposal to shield the industry from some lawsuits.
Scientific evidence has established that MTBE poses risks to human health. MTBE is absorbed rapidly and extensively from the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of humans. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified MTBE as a possible human carcinogen on the basis of studies that show MTBE to be a carcinogen in animals. Health complaints related to MTBE have included headaches, dizziness, irritated eyes, burning of the nose and throat, coughing, disorientation and nausea.
MTBE also is readily soluble in water and migrates quickly through groundwater. This renders the cleanup of contamination from leaking underground storage tanks much more difficult and expensive.
Thousands of sources of water have been contaminated across the United States, and spreading MTBE contamination will cause more and more wells to be shut down. MTBE cleanup costs range from a few million dollars to more than $200 million per utility
Critics say the administration is helping its campaign contributors at the expense of public health. Three top MTBE producers have given more than $1 million to Republicans since 1999.
A spokesman for one MTBE producer says the issue has nothing to do with campaign donations. He says the product does just what it's designed to do -- reduce air pollution.