CINCINNATI (WKRC) - When you fill up at the pump, you expect the fuel pouring into your vehicle's tank is pure, but in Ohio, there’s no way of knowing.
ACT OF FAITH
In Ohio, filling your tank is an act of faith. Ohio is one of just three states that don’t check the quality of the fuel at stations across the state.
Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds has no trouble rattling off the three states that don’t test:
“Alaska, Nebraska and the good state of Ohio,” Reynolds said, leaning back in his chair with a smile.
And because Ohio doesn’t check, there’s no way to know you’re getting bad gasoline until it’s too late.
STALLED CARS, EXPENSIVE REPAIRS
When asked how she feels about the lack of testing, Darlene Howell of Liberty Township didn’t hesitate, answering, “I don't like it at all.”
That’s because gas purchased by her daughter at the Madison Food Mart in Madison Township in February stopped the car she owns within a minute.
The car was sent to a mechanic who told her the gas was full of water, sending her a picture of the see-through sample in a jar to prove the point.
The bill to replace her fuel pump and other items and get her car running totaled more than $1,300. Combined with the towing charge, she was forced to pay $1,500.
Darlene did get reimbursed for the repair charges by the insurance company representing the gas station, but she was far from alone.
The Butler County Auditor’s office investigated after it received complaints, confirming five vehicles, including a US Postal Service vehicle, all stopped running after filling up at the Madison Township station.
The Butler County Auditor says the culprit was a loose cap that leads to the underground storage tank, allowing water to “pour in” in the tank.
When asked what happened, the manager of the Madison Food Mart told Local 12 News, “I don’t know how it happened.”
But the manager says the cap has been fixed.
While the water intrusion issue at that Madison Township station was an isolated case, Reynolds says people are frequently filling up with bad gas.
“We are getting calls from consumers who, at times, they're not able to get out of the parking lot because the fuel quality is so poor,” Reynolds said.
NOT A NEW PROBLEM
The problem with the quality of our fuel in Ohio is not a new phenomenon. In 1999, the Ohio Department of Agriculture surveyed 135 gas stations across the state, finding 21 percent of the samples it took did not meet minimum fuel quality standards.
In a recent news release, the Hamilton County auditor stated, “Typically from 20 to 25 percent of regular gas tested doesn’t pass in locales with no consumer protection programs.”
THE “BACON BOMB”
Every two years, inspectors with county auditor’s offices are required to check every pump at the more than 5,000 stations across Ohio, but none of the inspectors are permitted to check the quality of the fuel.
Local 12 followed Tom Kamphaus, a Butler County inspector, as he went on his rounds. Kamphaus opened the pumps themselves, checking for leaks and any devices that might have been planted inside, but his main task is to fill a special tank to make sure the gas or other fuel measures a true gallon.
Kamphaus knows how to spot the bad gas, revealing a long device called a “bacon bomb." The long tube is see-through plastic, which is fed into the underground tank and captures a sample of the fuel to visually inspect for bad gas.
But Kamphaus says Ohio doesn’t allow him to use the “bacon bomb” or any other device because he’s not allowed check the quality of the fuel at any of his stops.
“It’s tough because I know any car that pulls up here is going to spend their hard-earned money filling their tank up, and there's a good chance they can get water in their tank,” Kamphaus said, adding, “There's nothing I can do about it."
“I'm able to do this quality check at no extra cost to the taxpayers. Just give us the authority to do it,” Reynolds said.
But that authority has been elusive.
THE LAW AND THE LOBBYISTS
Bills at the Ohio Statehouse to allow counties to conduct fuel quality checks have failed in the past.
According to Rep. George, Lang, a state lawmaker from West Chester, lobbyists with the gas and oil industry worked to defeat those bills.
Local 12 reached out to the Ohio Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, which represents gas stations across the state. The president and CEO told us that fuel is already tested by the industry, using specially-trained inspectors, telling us that state testing would duplicate those efforts.
FULL STATEMENT FROM OHIO PETROLEUM MARKETERS & CONVENIENCE STORE ASSOCIATION:
Ohio’s petroleum and convenience industry stands behind the quality of the fuels we sell. We take very seriously our role in serving time-starved motorists in communities across Ohio. Our customers trust us to deliver high quality fuel and to do otherwise would jeopardize our businesses and our reputation in the communities we serve. Comprehensive fuel testing is already continuously conducted throughout the distribution network by specially-trained inspectors. For this reason, we question the need for yet another layer of duplicative evaluation in the absence of compelling need.
Jennifer Breech Rhoads
President and CEO
Ohio Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Assoc.
Rep. Lang, Reynolds and others disagree with Rhoads, saying without fuel quality testing in Ohio, a question will linger about what’s flowing from the pump.
After her experience, Howell says she supports mandatory fuel tests because she said, “I can’t test it myself.”