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Those Little Gas Spills When You Fill Up May Harm the Environment

Splashes add up to nearly 400 gallons a decade at typical service station, study says

FRIDAY, Oct. 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Routine small fuel spills at gas stations could cause long-term harm to communities as the gas leaks into the soil and groundwater, a new study suggests.

"Gas station owners have worked very hard to prevent gasoline from leaking out of underground storage tanks," said study leader Markus Hilpert, a senior scientist in the department of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "But our research shows we should also be paying attention to the small spills that routinely occur when you refill your vehicle's tank."

The findings are based on experiments and a mathematical model the researchers devised. They estimated that leaked gas can soak through concrete pads -- which aren't liquid-proof -- and eventually make its way into water wells of people living near a gas station. Rainwater could also move leaked gas from the surface into dirt or bodies of water, they said.

The researchers estimate that at least 396 gallons of gas may be spilled at a typical gas station over 10 years.

"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 in a Hopkins news release. In addition, the research rebuts assumptions that gas vanishes when it evaporates instead of soaking into concrete.

"The environmental and public health impacts of chronic gasoline spills are poorly understood," said Patrick Breysse, another author of the study and a professor in the department of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins.

"Chronic gasoline spills could well become significant public health issues since the gas station industry is currently trending away from small-scale service stations that typically dispense around 100,000 gallons per month to high-volume retailers that dispense more than 10 times this amount," Breysse said.

The study was published online Sept. 19 in the Journal of Contaminant Hydrology.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention talks about poisoning risks for children.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, news release, Oct. 7, 2014
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