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A bill is currently being considered by the Maine Legislature to ban the use of MTBE as a gasoline additive throughout the state.
The Natural Resources Committee unanimously recommended the bill’s passage on Thursday, enhancing its chances of passage when voted on by the House and Senate as early as this week.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Peter Rines, D-Wiscasset, would ban the retail sale of gasoline containing MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, by Jan. 1, 2007. Connecticut and New York have passed similar bans, Rines said.
The additive, which the government considers a potential carcinogen, was introduced in gasoline in 1991 as a way to reduce emissions of toxic compounds. However, it has seeped into ground water and well water in many areas throughout Maine and across the United States, causing a serious contamination issue.
While there is no evidence MTBE in water poses a health risk, the additive can make water undrinkable because of an unpleasant, turpentine-like smell and taste at even low concentrations.
MTBE has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice at high concentrations, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency considers it a potential carcinogen.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is supporting Rines’ bill.