Gasoline Pump Debate

A LOT of Americans pump their own gas at the service station to save money.

They have to tolerate the gasoline odor, and the unpleasant smell tends to stick to your hands. That odor is not necessarily from carelessly spilled gas. Most of it is from fumes.

Self-serve drivers also have to push the hose nozzle into a snugly fitting "collar" where pump nozzle and tank meet. There also is a bulky "rubber boot" that, when handled properly, keeps the fumes from getting into the atmosphere. Though this helps keep down fumes, it's not terribly efficient, especially in the hands of amateurs. So, having proved that trapping gasoline fumes helps to mitigate smogginess, the next question is: Might there be a better way? Possibly. It has been found that if you attach a

canister about the size and shape of a coffee can, but filled with charcoal, to the gas tank, the charcoal absorbs the gas fumes. When the car is started the fumes are sucked into the tank and burned with the regular fuel.

In 1990 Congress voted to have all cars and light trucks produced from 1996 on to have the on-board refueling vapor recovery system (ORVR). However, George Bush - still president then - told the EPA to hold up; he was delaying the order because the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the canisters posed a fire hazard.

But the outgoing president didn't have the last word. A three-judge panel of federal judges reinstated the order, citing EPA findings that the charcoal-filled cans would decrease the number of service-station fires.

Although the new device is aimed at helping automakers as well as consumers, Chrysler and Ford spokesmen have indicated that their firms do not favor the canisters. This debate obviously is not over. The new Clinton administration had not been heard from at this writing. When they get around to it, they should give serious attention to a long-range program of conversion from gasoline to less-polluting fuels, such as ethanol and methanol.

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