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Tiny Gasoline Drips Can Create Big Problems

You know those tiny drops of gasoline that tend to escape from the pump as you start or finish getting gas? They can actually add up to a big problem for human health and the environment.

That’s the conclusion of a new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Their report in the Journal of Contaminant Hydrology says that all those gasoline drips, over time, can cause lasting damage to nearby soil and groundwater.

“Gas station owners have worked very hard to prevent gasoline from leaking out of underground storage tanks,” the leader of the study, Markus Hilpert of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School told the Johns Hopkins news department. But after years of drips accumulate in the porous concrete pads under pumps, the leaked gas can eventually leach into the soil beneath and eventually into groundwater, creating a hazard to nearby residents.

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The team conservatively estimated that some 356 gallons of gasoline leak from pumps at a typical gas station over 10 years. That’s a lot of poison. “Even if only a small percentage reaches the ground, this could be problematic because gasoline contains harmful chemicals including benzene, a known human carcinogen,” Hilpert said.

Hilpert worked with a colleague at Johns Hopkins, Patrick N. Breysse, to create a mathematical model that gauges how much gasoline oozes through the concrete of gas stations as well as the amount of gasoline that evaporates into the air. The model showed that the concrete absorbs far more gasoline than vaporizes.

“When gasoline spills onto concrete, the droplet will eventually disappear from the surface,” Hilpert said. “If no stain is left behind, there has been a belief that no gasoline infiltrated the pavement, and all of it evaporated.”

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But the truth is quite different, he said. “According to our laboratory-based research and supported by our mathematical model… even the smallest gasoline spills can have a lasting impact.”

Breysse said there are few studies of the health effects of living near gas stations, and that the Johns Hopkins research shows it’s time to look more closely at this, especially as newer stations are being built with an increasing number of pumps.

“The environmental and public health impacts of chronic gasoline spills are poorly understood,” Breysse said. “Chronic gasoline spills could well become significant public health issues.”

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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