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    MTBE Found Near N.H. Shell Station

    Source uncertain; state investigates.

    NORTHWOOD, N.H. -- Contamination has been discovered in groundwater beneath a Shell station in Northwood, prompting concerns among area residents who said the gasoline additive MTBE tainted drinking-water wells in the area in the 1980s.

    Last month, property owners within 500 feet of the Shell station received letters from the state Department of Environmental Services alerting them in general terms to the presence of groundwater contamination nearby. They were not told the specifics, that a November check revealed high levels of MTBE (3,400 parts per billion) in a testing well at the Shell station, more than 260 times the acceptable state standard of 13 parts per
    billion. By July, the MTBE levels had climbed to 24,000, according to the Concord Monitor.

    "That implies that there may be an ongoing source of the release," said Maureen Estabrook, the DES project manager assigned to the case. The state does not yet know the cause of the problem, she said, but has called for further testing and remediation, including the removal of water from the contaminated wells with a vacuum truck.

    MTBE is highly soluble and difficult to remove from groundwater. At low levels, it gives an offensive odor and taste to water. Its effects on drinking water at high levels are not precisely known, according to information provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, it has caused cancer and other harmful effects as an inhalant tested on animals.

    The Northwood Shell station is only a year old and has three fiberglass storage tanks totaling 42,000 gallons that were installed in April of 2002, according to DES records. But the tanks are not the cause of the problem, said Shawn Fredericks, a spokesman for Motiva, the Shell and Saudi Refining Inc.-held retail arm that owns the local station.

    "We do not believe there's an ongoing leak," Fredericks said, adding that "our highest priority is the health and safety of our neighbors. We're doing everything we can to investigate the extent of off-site impact."

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