You no longer have to turn your head or hold your breath while you pump gas at Carl Adair's Amoco service station on Greenmount Avenue.
The pumps at Adair's place and 11 other Amoco stations in the Baltimore area have been fitted with new nozzles that prevent foul-smelling gasoline vapors from escaping into the air during fill-ups.
Amoco Oil Co., seeking to capitalize on public concerns about the Baltimore area's smoggy air, announced yesterday that it has begun putting pollution-curbing nozzles on the gas pumps at all 120 of its service stations in and around the city.
"We want to do the right thing, and we think this is the right thing," said John C. Bergman, Amoco's vice president of marketing for the eastern United States, at a news conference at Adair's service station, at 25th Street and Greenmount.
The changeover, begun quietly last month, comes more than two years before virtually all service stations in Baltimore, Washington and other smog-plagued urban areas would be required to have so-called "vapor recovery" nozzles under new federal air pollution laws.
The move also comes a little over a year after Amoco dealers and other Maryland service station owners thwarted Gov. William Donald Schaefer's bid to require non-polluting gas pumps in the state, complaining that they were too costly, unpopular with motorists and of little value in the fight to curb smog.
But since then, Congress has enacted a sweeping new Clean Air Act, which requires a crackdown on auto emissions and other sources of ground-level ozone, otherwise known as smog. The law, signed last year by President Bush, mandates vapor-catching gas nozzles by November 1994 in all urban areas with ozone problems.
The Baltimore area, which has had unhealthful levels of groundlevel ozone pollution on six days so far this year, is one of the 10 smoggiest cities in the country. Breathing ozone-laden air can irritate the lungs and shorten breath, but it is especially hazardous to young children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems.
Amoco officials said they were moving before the federal deadline because they have developed a new non-polluting nozzle that is more "user-friendly" than the vapor-catching pump fixtures used for years in service stations in the District of Columbia and in several other states.
Those nozzles, equipped with an accordion-like rubber "bellows," have to be pressed against the vehicle's side while filling up. Motorists have complained the devices are hard to work and prone to spilling gas.
While the new nozzles resemble the old ones, they are a couple of inches longer and several ounces heavier. They require no extra effort to pump gas, yet they capture the gas fumes that usually escape, Amoco officials said.
A grapefruit-sized vacuum pump inside the gas pump sucks gasoline vapors from a car's fill pipe into a series of small holes near the tip of the nozzle. The fumes are drawn back through the nozzle hose into the service station's underground storage tank, from where they are siphoned off and trucked back to the fuel terminal to be condensed back into gasoline.
The new nozzles and hoses cost about $500 a pump, Amoco officials say, but adapting and replacing underground tanks and piping to collect gas vapors raises the overall cost to about $40,000 per station.
The cost is borne mainly by the dealers, but company officials say they do not expect gas prices to increase much, if at all, because competition among stations is intense right now.
State and city officials were on hand yesterday to praise Amoco's environmental initiative, which comes on the heels of the company's program begun last fall to collect used motor oil at 155 stations around Baltimore and Washington.
State environmental officials couldn't suppress their satisfaction, however, that the gasoline industry's resistance to vapor-recovery nozzles had been overcome by federal law.
"They won the first round, but we got the knockout," said George Ferreri, director of the air management administration for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
He estimated that fitting all gas stations in the Baltimore area with vapor-catching nozzles will reduce releases of smog-causing pollutants by nine tons a day.
Amoco opposed Maryland's gas-vapor legislation because it wouldhave taken effect before the new nozzles were ready, Bergman said.