A recent study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology has found MTBE contamination in 7 out of 10 mobile home parks in Rockingham County, half of the private wells tested in the county's most populous regions, and 40 percent of the community water supplies in the same areas. In New Hampshire's four most populous counties (Rockingham, Strafford, Hillsborough and Merrimack), 30 percent of public drinking water and 17 percent of private wells. State officials and scientists involved in the study are concerned and don't understand why so many of the area's mobile home parks are contaminated. For many years, MTBE was added to gasoline to help it burn cleaner. The chemical escaped from leaking underground storage tanks and made its way into groundwater, where small amounts can contaminate a large supply and can be expensive and difficult to remove. A scientist with New Hampshire's Department of Environmental Services pointed to auto junkyards in the area as well as the many gas stations as potential sources of MTBE. Ethanol is now used instead. MTBE is a suspected carcinogen, having been found to cause kidney, liver and testicular cancer in rats. And once MTBE gets into the environment, it persists there. There is also concern that other chemicals could have reached the groundwater in the same way.

State officials are recommending that residents have private wells tested for MTBE contamination. The necessary tests are more extensive that routine water quality tests and should be repeated every 3 to 5 years. More information is available at http://www.des.state.nh.us. Residents whose well tests show MTBE contamination can contact the state for help. Schools, businesses and cities that provide public drinking water are required by law to test water annually for volatile organic compounds, and more often if contamination is found. The state operates a fund to help set up treatment systems to clean up contaminated water.

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