Gas Selling below Legal Standards; Fuel Lab's New Facility Will Make It Easier to Assess Problematic Sales

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Byline: Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA Nearly 400 times a year, state regulators catch gas stations selling fuel below legal standards and risking damage to engines.

Contamination from water, sediment or rust and improper levels of lead, octane or ethanol all trigger violations. In about 70 percent of the cases, water is the culprit, according to the state's chief chemist, David Au, director of the State Fuel Oil Laboratory.

"People forget to close the top for the underground tank," he said.

Next month, the fuel lab moves into new facilities in Tifton where it will have more modern capabilities for staying on top of problem gas sales.

The state's 23 inspectors test roughly 13,000 samples of gas each year, according to the Department of Agriculture, the agency that oversees gas standards.

"In the last five years, I would say 2-3 percent are out of compliance," Au said.

Fuel impurities can originate from many steps in the journey between oil well and a car's gas tank, according to Wolf H. Hoch, president of Technology Resources International Inc., a Sterling, Ill.-based lab. Sediment in pipelines, rust or debris from terminal tanks, condensation in shipping barges all can contribute.

"The last area for creating contamination is the station storage tank," he said. "Steel tanks may experience rust formation in the vapor space. Particulates may also enter through drain valves in spill buckets. In warmer climates, soil particulates may introduce microbes into the tank, which may thrive in the water/product interface and produce additional contaminants. …