On January 16, 2000 CBS News' 60 minutes reported
on the concerns about methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) contaminating the
water in 49 states. MTBE is a gasoline additive which has been used since
the late 1970s to help reduce automobile emissions. As 60 minutes reported,
MTBE is highly water-soluble, slow to degrade, and, because of leaking
underground petroleum storage tanks, has become a contaminant in 20 percent
of the nation's urban wells. The city of Santa Monica, CA alone found 70
percent of its city wells contaminated, and has spend more then $3 million
a year pumping in water from the Colorado River to replace those of the seven
city wells it shut down due to MTBE contamination. Although MTBE has
been a controversial gasoline additive for a number of years, the 60 Minute
report gave it instant national attention.
As with most issues that affect issues of health, the environment, industry
and politics, there is a wide range of opinions regarding this topic. I have
listed a number of web sites below that address various elements of the MTBE
debate. They range from purely descriptive articles to extremely opinionated.
Again, as with most issues of this nature, the truth? Is likely to lie somewhere
between the extremes of opinion. I believe the articles here will give you
enough information to make your own informed opinions regarding the severity
and danger of MTBE contamination..
About MTBE - MTBE
stands for the synthetic compound Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether and is a gasoline
additive that has contaminated drinking water across the country. Made from
methanol and a by-product of the oil refining process, it was added to gasoline
in an attempt to make gas burn cleaner, but studies show it has had little
effect on curbing air pollution.
- To what extent will past releases contaminate community water supply
wells (This is a PDF file and you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader)
The increasing frequency of detection of the widely used gasoline additive
methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) in both ground and surface waters is receiving
much attention from the media, environmental scientists, state environmental
agencies, and federal agencies. At the national level, the September 15,
1999, Report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Oxygenates in Gasoline (1) states
that between 5 and 10% of community drinking water supplies in high MTBE
use areas show at least detectable concentrations of MTBE, and about 1% of
those systems are characterized by levels of this compound that are above
20 µg/L. In Maine, a desire to determine the extent of MTBE contamination
led to a 1998 study (2) that revealed that this compound is found at levels
above 0.1 µg/L in 16% of 951 randomly selected household wells and in
16% of the 793 community water systems tested in that state (37 wells were
not tested). The study also suggested that between 1400 and 5200 household
wells may have levels above 35 µg/L, although no community water supplies
were found to be above that concentration. For comparison, Maryland, New
Hampshire, New York, and California have set MTBE remediation "action levels"
at or below 20 µg/L, and EPA has set its advisory level for taste and
odor at 20-40 µg/L.
........ Use of MTBE as a gasoline additive began in the United States in
the late 1970s when it was introduced as a means of maintaining adequate
octane ratings during the phaseout of alkyl lead additives. MTBE use expanded
dramatically in the mid-1990s with the implementation of the Clean Air Act
Amendments of 1990, which mandated efforts to reduce carbon monoxide emissions,
as well as ozone levels in urban air. For carbon monoxide, MTBE was selected
by some gasoline producers as a means of producing "oxygenated fuel" (oxyfuel)
that allowed the more complete combustion of gasoline hydrocarbons.
........ MTBE is very soluble in water and is therefore very mobile in
groundwater systems. And, the absence of any carbon branches more than one
carbon long on the MTBE molecule make MTBE very resistant to biodegradation.
Thus, like the chlorinated solvent compounds TCE and PCE, MTBE has been found
to persist in groundwater, and cases of MTBE plumes extending kilometer-scale
distances in the subsurface have now been documented.
....... Subsurface contamination has the potential to threaten local community
water supply wells for tens to hundreds of years. This is because leaking
underground storage tank sources can persist for decades and because it can
take tens to hundreds of years for groundwater to flow from source areas
to a CWS well.
...... Some MTBE plumes have originated from very small spills, as from the
gasoline in the tank of a single over-turned auto. Ten gallons of a gasoline
that is 11% by volume MTBE will contain 3 kg of MTBE. If such an amount were
to reach the water table (either by direct seepage of the gasoline or as
assisted by infiltration of precipitation), subsequent dissolution and transport
could lead to the contamination of millions of liters of water at the tens
of µg/L level. .... For example, a spill resulting from a single automobile
accident in Standish, ME, led to MTBE transport through more than 0.7 km
of fractured rock and to the contamination of more than 20 domestic wells.
(This site is for those doing serious MTBE research - this is mostly a list
of journal articles, none of which are on-line) This bibliography includes
references from many sources. Many of these references were obtained through
the Chemical Abstracts data base. The rest were compiled with the help of
other interested parties including several international research sources,
industry and their commercial affiliates, research labs, and other governmental
agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
in California Drinking Water MTBE MCLs: Status Overview of MTBE in Drinking
Water MTBE in Ground Water Sources MTBE in Surface Water Sources
of California State Auditor Report Number 98112 - December 1998 California's
Drinking Water: State and Local Agencies Need to provide Leadership to Address
Contamination of Groundwater by Gasoline Components and Additives
MTBE Fact Sheet and Drinking Water Reservoirs Campaign
Is There Gas in Your Glass?
MTBE Leaks Are A Ticking Bomb
University of California, Berkeley
UC Davis MTBE Research (Good
Links) http://trg.ucdavis.edu/clients/trg/research/mtbe.html Water Quality
Scientists at the University of California, Davis Conduct Research on the
Source, Fate and Transport of the Controversial Gasoline Additive MTBE in
a High Mountain, Recreational Lake
Monica water supply threatened by MTBE
EPA - Drinking
Water Advisory: Consumer Acceptability Advice and Health Effects Analysis
on Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MtBE)
Fact Sheet (PDF format)
Full Text (PDF format)
MtBE and your drinking water
MtBE in gasoline
MtBE and underground storage tanks
EPA - Federal
Policy on MTBE
EPA - MTBE in
drinking-water sources is of concern because it is a potential human
carcinogen and it has low taste and odor thresholds which can make a water
supply nonpotable even at low concentrations. Although there is no established
drinking-water regulation, US EPA has issued a drinking-water advisory of
20 to 40 micrograms per liter (µg/L) on the basis of taste and odor
thresholds. This advisory concentration is intended to provided large margin
of safety for noncancer effects and is in the range of margins typically
provided for potential carcinogenic effects.
EPA - Links
to EPA Offices that regulate MTBE
Announcement of the
Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), as amended in 1996, requires the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) to publish a list of contaminants (CCL) that are known or anticipated
to occur in public water systems, and which may require regulation under
the SDWA [section 1412(b)(1)]. ... Today's notice is being published pursuant
to the requirements in section 1412(b)(1). The contaminants included are
not subject to any proposed or promulgated national primary drinking water
regulation, are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems, and
may require regulation under the SDWA. ...
EPA - Drinking Water and
Health These fact sheets are about chemicals that may be found in some
public or private drinking water supplies. These chemicals may cause health
problems if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by the
U. S. EPA.
The Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC)
is a nonprofit (501(c)3) organization whose members consist of state and
federal ground water agencies, industry representatives, environmentalists
and concerned citizens, all of whom come together within the GWPC organization
to mutually work toward the protection of the nation's ground water supplies.
The purpose of the GWPC is to promote and ensure the use of best management
practices and fair but effective laws regarding comprehensive ground water
American Petroleum Institute
MTBE Resource Page. This page is a gateway to technical information on
fuel oxygenates in soil, groundwater and surface water. Most of the information
found in this page concerns MTBE. Links are provided to API-generated material
as well as information sources outside of API.
and Performance Aspects of Oxygenated Motor Vehicle Fuels (1996)
2 AIR QUALITY, FUEL ECONOMY
3 WATER QUALITY 4 HUMAN EXPOSURE
5 POTENTIAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF OXYGENATES
6 POTENTIAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF OTHER POLLUTANTS
7 RISK ASSESSMENT
CBS Turns a Blind "Eye" Toward
the Facts About MTBE
Statement of Terry Wigglesworth, Executive Director, Oxygenated Fuels Association
January 16, 2000
In a multi-segment story about Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) on Sunday,
January 16, 60 Minutes offered a distorted view of one of the greatest
environmental success stories of the twentieth century. 60 Minutes missed
the story entirely by ignoring the clean air benefits of reformulated gasoline
("RFG") with MTBE, and skirting the real issue-that gasoline is leaking from
underground fuel storage tanks.
We are puzzled and disappointed that 60 Minutes ignored all of the data OFA
provided its segment producers, as well as all of the information communicated
by an OFA spokesperson in a lengthy on-camera interview. Despite our cooperation,
our spokesperson and the benefits of MTBE, were shut out of the story completely.
Governors Ethanol Coalition
Letter to 60
Dear Mr. Messick:
On behalf of the 23 members of the Governors. Ethanol Coalition, we would
like to take this opportunity to thank you for producing a story aired on
January 16, 2000, on the impacts of MTBE in motor fuel and groundwater. For
many years the Coalition has invited informed discussion on gasoline and
oxygenates and their impact on the environment. We believe that only with
informed discussion can we arrive at fuel programs that meet the needs of
Anyone else see the 60 Minutes anti-MTBE piece last night? A few errors /
omissions that I spotted:
Monica Water Division Featured on CBS' "Sixty Minutes"
The contamination of several of the City's drinking water wells with the
fuel additive MTBE (Methyl tert-Butyl Ether) was featured on the CBS news
program "Sixty Minutes" on January 16, 2000. The story described the closure
of seven of our eleven wells in 1996 soon after the contamination with MTBE
National Corn Growers Association (NCGA)
Responds to 60 Minutes MTBE Story
In a response to CBS 60 Minutes Jan. 16 story about the oxygenate MTBE and
the controversy surrounding it, Lynn Jensen, president of the National Corn
Growers Association, told Executive Producer Tom Hewit that the story didn't
go far enough to include ethanol as an alternative. "Your Jan. 16 story did
an excellent job of depicting the problems posed by the use of the oxygenate
MTBE in reformulated gasoline (RFG)," Jensen said in his Jan. 19 letter.
"However, two elements could have made the story more complete. First, you
ignored the fact that there are benefits to the use of oxygen in gasoline.
Second, you dismissed a readily available, environmentally friendly alternative
to MTBE: ethanol."
role seen for ethanol, MTBE in cutting smog
Thursday, May 13, 1999
The National Research Council reported Tuesday that oxygen additives used
in reformulated gasoline have had little to do with a decrease in the emission
of smog-forming chemicals. "Although additives do reduce some pollutants
from motor vehicles emissions, the oxygenates appear to have little impact
on lowering ozone levels," said committee chair William Chameides, regents
professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of
Technology, Atlanta. "Moreover, it is not possible to attribute a significant
portion of past reductions in smog to the use of these gasoline additives."
Instead, credit for the reduction goes to better emissions control equipment
and other, nonoxygen-additives to gasoline.
and Environmental Assessment of MTBE
Volume II: Human Health
Peer-Reviewed Research and
Literature on the Human Health Effects of MTBE, its Metabolites,
Combustion Products and Substitute Compounds
Interagency Assessment of
Potential Health Risks Associated with Oxygenated Gasoline
If, after browsing the web pages above and those listed on other pages of
this site, you have further questions, comments, new web pages to add, or
if you are interested in information about drinking water filtration systems
capable of removing MTBE and other contaminants, please
let me know.