Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne MTBE (gasoline additive) and the environment
Name: David Monti
Status: Other
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 

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 stand for?
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

R Topper

Click here to return to the Environmental Science

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory