Special four-day symposium on MTBE and drinking water

Cutting air pollution at the cost of water quality?

SAN FRANCISCO, March 27 -- The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments dramatically increased the use of oxygenates to make cleaner-burning gasoline. The most widely used oxygenate is MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether), followed by ethanol. Air pollution from older vehicles has declined, as intended, but MTBE is turning up in drinking and surface water supplies. Recent coverage has cited limited information on MTBE's impact on drinking water. Now, more than 50 research papers on MTBE and related issues will be presented during the 219th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, in San Francisco, Calif., March 26-30. Topics include the extent of MTBE contamination, risks to human health, the government's response, bioremediation and other cleanup methods, and alternatives to MTBE. Selected studies are described below.

  • Health risk issues for oxygenates: Much is known about the consequences of inhaling MTBE, far less about ingesting it. Most studies of ethanol have focused on its use and abuse as an intoxicant, not its use as a fuel additive. Information on other oxygenates is even spottier. (J. M. Davis, National Center for Environmental Assessment, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; ENVR 63; Monday, March 27, 4:30 p.m., Hilton Imperial B, Ballroom Level. See page 106 in the final program.)

  • Will the potential substitutes for MTBE create longer or shorter plumes? MTBE contaminates water more readily than other gasoline constituents, even benzene. This paper examines alternatives to MTBE and whether they are likely to be better or worse in this regard. (B. Hartman, Transglobal Environmental Geochemistry, Solana Beach, Calif.; ENVR 79; Tuesday, March 28, 9:50 a.m., Hilton Imperial B, Ballroom Level. See page 106 in the final program.)

  • Effects

Contact: Beverly Hassell or Charmayne Marsh
American Chemical Society

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