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    Florida Concerned About Contamination

    State Department of Environmental Protection estimates underground storage tanks leaking at 25,000 sites.

    ORLANDO, Fla. -- Buried storage tanks are leaking gasoline into 25,000 sites around the state, causing concern that drinking water may become contaminated, state officials said.

    Florida's absorbent, sandy soil and residents' dependence on groundwater contribute to the concerns, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said. Public wells used by 17 million people are within a half-mile of leaking tanks.

    "People don't realize when they are filling their cars with gas that they are handling a hazardous substance -- gasoline is explosive and it can cause cancer," Michael Ashey, chief of the Bureau of Petroleum Storage Systems for the Florida environmental agency, told the Associated Press.

    Florida ranks third after California and Texas in gasoline use, burning nearly 20 million gallons a day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. About 22,000 of the leak sites are near gas stations and similar facilities, the report said.

    Florida also has more leak sites than any other state except California, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said. State officials are cleaning up more than 3,000 sites, and more than 10,000 sites are awaiting cleanup. The state will require double-walled petroleum-storage systems to replace older tanks by 2010.

    Florida spent $151 million last year to expedite the cleanups, but officials say they need more money to reduce the backlog.

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