Science
5:37 pm
Thu March 14, 2013

At St. Louis Gas Stations, Fume-Reducing Nozzles Get (Rid Of) The 'Boot'

 

Starting on March 15, gas stations in Franklin, Jefferson, St. Charles and St. Louis counties and the city of St. Louis can switch from vapor-capturing nozzles (black “boot,” left) to ordinary nozzles (right).
Credit Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio (left) and Art Chimes (right)

Starting tomorrow, gas stations in the St. Louis area can start getting rid of those familiar black boots on pump nozzles.

The boots are part of a vapor recovery system designed to capture harmful gas fumes that contribute to ozone pollution and smog. In 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required gas stations in most high smog areas to install them.

But since 1998, automobile manufacturers have been phasing in equipment to capture gas vapors in new model cars.

Regional American Lung Association environmental health director Susannah Fuchs says the two pollution control systems were never designed to work together.

"Those two systems, the one that's part of the car, and then the one that's part of the gas pump, kind of negate, or even cause a problem when combined with each other," Fuchs says.

Last May, the U.S. EPA decided the gas pump systems were no longer needed and gave states the option of phasing them out.

Fuchs doesn't expect the phase out to worsen air pollution. She says although ozone and smog are still a problem in our area — especially during heat waves like the one we had last summer — she says overall, air quality in the St. Louis region has been improving. 

A diagram from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources depicting the path gasoline fumes take in a "Stage II Vapor Recovery System."
Credit (Missouri Department of Natural Resources)

Ron Leone, who directs a trade organization that represents most of the gas stations and convenience stores in Missouri, says St. Louis-area businesses will jump at the chance to get rid of the vapor-trapping systems.


"It costs significant sums of money to not only have the equipment, to maintain the equipment, to replace the equipment, to inspect the equipment," Leone says. "So that even though it's voluntary, you can bet your bottom dollar that the vast majority of gas stations and convenience stores in your area are going to take advantage of it."

The EPA estimates that removing the vapor-trapping equipment will save a typical gas station about $3,000 a year. Over the long-term, total annual savings are expected to exceed $90 million nationwide.

Want more information about the phase-out? The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is holding a public meeting to discuss it next week. The Vapor Recovery Stakeholder Meeting is set for Friday, March 22, from 10 a.m. to noon at the St. Louis County Health Department, 6121 N. Hanley Road, Room 1048, in Berkeley, Mo.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience