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April 15, 2005

Question of the Day

This blog now has a readership of several hundred impressive, smart, and informed people. Together, we know a tremendous amount about a lot of things. I'm hoping we can turn it into a collaborative research tool: a rudimentary "wiki." (Wikis: defined and exemplified.)

Today's New York Times has a revealing article on the gasoline additive MTBE. This chemical was a much-heralded air pollution preventer: it makes gas burn cleaner. Unfortunately, it also proved a pernicious polluter of water. It finds even tiny holes in fuel storage tanks, leaks out and quickly permeates aquifers. At just 1 part per billion, it gives water an awful taste. It's also a suspected carcinogen.

The NYT article has information on MTBE in much of the United States, but nothing on the Northwest. The question of the day is, How big an issue is MTBE in Cascadia? How many water supplies are contaminated? How badly? What are the trends? Is it getting better or worse? How many people are affected? How? What about wildlife? What are Cascadians doing about MTBE? What's the history of MTBE in the Northwest? What, specifically, is going on in each part of Cascadia: southeast Alaska, British Columbia, northwest California, Idaho, western Montana, Oregon, and Washington? What are the appropriate policy responses? What's the true cost of MTBE, counting all the clean up? Bonus points for supplying not just links to relevant information but concise summaries--and for summarizing others' comments into a single overview.

In a real wiki, everyone could edit a shared main text, with each iteration saved for future reference. Here, we'll have to do it within the constraints of typepad's comment function. Sorry. If this Question of the Day proves successful, maybe we'll launch a "real" wiki with the right software. (Speaking of which: anyone know an online wiki service where we could set up such a thing?)

Posted by Alan Durning | Permalink

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Comments

Hi Alan,

Please don't hesitate to drop by XWiki.com ! It's an open source, profesionnal Wiki with an ASP offer (currently free !) and we currently have around 2600 wikis open there. You may like the advanced features and extensibility. Please let me know if I can help you with anything.

Luis.

Posted by: Luis Arias | Apr 16, 2005 1:25:04 AM

A chronolog is NOT a wiki! Blogs suffer from excessive temporality -- they are linear. This is good for some things, but a wiki is entirely different, and the results are flavored in both subtle and obvious ways.

Blogs and forums tend toward entropy -- after a dozen or so entries, new people join and re-raise the initial issues. Wikis are negentropic -- content builds and is refined over time.

I host a number of wikis based on MediaWiki, the same software used by the magnificent WikiPedia.org. I'd be happy to help with yours, either by installing one on your server, hosting one powered by green power (for a nominal fee, since my resources are not free), or assisting in administration.

See my URL for an example, a wiki I set up for a nascent BC ecovillage.

Posted by: Jan Steinman | Apr 16, 2005 10:59:28 AM

Here's one aspect of an answer to questions about MTBE in Washington.

An Ecology department study of MTBE at known sites of leaking underground storage tanks (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/pubs/0009054.pdf) concluded in 2000 that "there may potentially be over 800 point sources of MTBE resulting from known leaking underground storage tanks" in Washington. The authors acknowledge that this is likely an underestimate (e.g., because there may be MTBE at sites without known groundwater contamination). I find no information on the Ecology web pages that recommended follow on studies have been initiated or completed.

The Washington state Department of Health's web pages (e.g., http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/dw/default.htm) do not appear to address MTBE as a contaminant of concern in the source water of drinking water supplies.

Posted by: Scott Redman | Apr 20, 2005 1:08:05 AM