MTBE (gasoline additive) and the environment
Name: David Monti
One of my students brought in an article about a gasoline additive called
MTBE. It was tested in Alaska with some hazardous results. What does MTBE
Is it still in production?
You might try contacting the American Petroleum Institute's Public information
Office, or the EPA.
OK, I took a little time to educate myself. MTBE stands for methyl tertiary
butyl ether, which is used as a gasoline additive or "oxygenate", and has two
potential substitutes: ethanol and ETBE. The American Petroleum Institute
has sued the EPA for ruling that 30% of all oxygenates in the domestic fuel
supply be of renewable origin (meaning ethanol, which is pure 200 proof grain
neutral spirits distilled from corn mash). There were reports of "bad smells"
coming from MTBE gasoline in Fairbanks Alaska, but I am not sure there has
been any research published on the health effects (I am sure the research was
done but I have not looked for it). My source says that MTBE may be the
fastest growing chemical on the planet, with demand estimated to be 24 Million
Metric Tons per year in 1995, and 36 MMT per year in 2005. With that much of
the stuff sloshing around, we would better look into the health research -
remember what a struggle it was to get lead out of gasoline, but thankfully
average blood lead levels have been dropping steadily ever since.
My source - "Chemical Week", Volume 155, August 31, 1994 - page 13
Additional information on the health effects of MTBE can be found in:
"Chemical and Engineering News", Volume 71, September 20, 1993, page 9-12
"National Petroleum News", Volume 85, June 1993, page 23.
Results are inconclusive, research is ongoing, AMA has called for a moratorium
on MTBE until conclusive results are obtained.
Umm, that is "methyl tertiary-butyl ether."
For you chemistry fans, that is a methyl group (CH_3 - )
linked to a tertiary butyl group ( -C-(CH_3)_3 )
by an oxygen atom (which makes it an "ether").
CH3 - O - C(CH3)3
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Update: June 2012