Cincinnati Post
  C I N C I N N A T I   P O S T

Auditors want to test gasoline
By Mike Rutledge, Post staff reporter

As long as Ohio's county auditors are checking the amount of gasoline that service stations are selling, they may as well verify you are getting the octane grade you are paying for, they argue.
    A Closer Look
    Here's how fuel-quality testing could work, as envisioned by Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes:

County auditors' weights-and-measures employees already pump five gallons of gas from a pump to make sure the proper amount of fuel is being dispensed. They then return the gasoline.

They also wipe down pipes inside the pumps to make sure there aren't leaks, sometimes alerting the station owners to the problem.

Before returning the fuel, the testers could use hand-held devices that check the quality by passing light through it.

The test involves filling a small cup with gas and placing it into the small machine. When the field tests find a problem, samples can be sent to a lab for more tests.
The auditors - whose names appear on gas pumps across the state, and who get complaints when drivers get a bad batch of gas - are hoping state lawmakers will give them authority they say all but three other states have: the ability to sample the octane level being sold. ''Right now, all we can assure you when you get a bad gallon of gasoline, is that you got a full gallon of bad gas,'' Thomas Pappas, a lobbyist for the County Auditors' Assoc iation of Ohio, said. Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, an advocate of the testing, says the work can be performed for minimal cost and will improve the quality of gas sold in Ohio, if Montana's experience during the 1990s is an indication. ''This is a service that we can provide to protect our consumers for a relatively low cost,'' Rhodes said. ''Nobody is out there testing the quality.'' State Sen. Lou Blessing, R-Colerain Township, plans to sponsor legislation, after hearing Rhodes' arguments. ''I think it's high time we did that,'' Blessing said. ''I don't know that there's a problem, but I certainly support their ability to test,'' Blessing said. Bad gas can stop a car, says Rhodes, who has a jar in his office filled with tainted fuel that recently did just that to a late-model Ford Contour. Actually, the fuel companies themselves do quite a bit of testing, counters Terry Fleming, a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, which contends Ohio does not have a fuel-quality problem. According to a small sampling of gas sellers in Ohio during July 1999, 21.9 percent of the regular gasoline was substandard, testers at the Missouri Department of Agriculture's Fuel Laboratory found. The substandard gasoline either didn't have the advertised octane rating, had too much sediment, was contaminated with water or failed to meet other standards that affect performance. Using the same tests, Missouri gas sellers failed on regular gasoline only 0.8 percent of the time, the head of that state's fuel-testing program said at the time. In 1994, officials in Montana tested more than 100 gasoline samples. About 17 percent of samples were off-grade or had an octane rating of less than that listed on the pump, the state found. The next three years, with a testing program in place, the percentage of off-grade fuel dropped to to between 1 percent and 2 percent. State officials cite the testing program as the main reason. The tainted fuel in Rhodes' office perplexed even the car experts at Duebber's Automotive Service Center in Delhi. They examined the fuel, and nothing seemed amiss. After exhausting all other possibilities, they bled all the fuel and replaced it. The car ran. Ultimately, after hours of diagnosis costing hundreds of dollars, the problem was determined: Some foreign substance - diesel is suspected - was in the tank. A nearby gasoline station denied its fuel caused the problem, but the national company quickly paid the bill, and those for cars serviced by other area stations. ''They denied on several occasions they had the problem, and then they paid the bill,'' said Al Duebber, owner of the service station that ultimately solved the riddle. ''It looks like gasoline, smells like gasoline,'' said Duebber. ''But this was a horrible problem, diagnosing this one.'' If nothing else, testing can keep service stations and fuel deliverers on their toes, reducing ''human error,'' Pappas said. Some auditors argue that without the testing, Ohio can be a ''dumping ground'' for bad fuel. That argument outrages Fleming, who said gas stations don't stay in business by providing bad-quality fuel.

Publication date: 03-13-01

© Copyright 2001, The Cincinnati Post. All Rights Reserved.