Have you been hearing bad things about a compound in gasoline (a.k.a., gas, petrol, essence, benzin) called "MTBE" and wondered what is it, do you get exposed and is it hazardous to your health?
MTBE is an acronym for methyl tertiary butyl ether. This compound is not naturally occurring component of gasoline but is an additive which has been used since 1979. It was originally used to help gasoline burn more smoothly and efficiently after lead was phased out of motor fuels. Starting in 1992 in cooperation with the U.S. EPA, petroleum companies started adding it to gasoline to improve combustion and decrease harmful carbon monoxide emissions from motor vehicles, especially in the winter months. The goal is to improve the air quality in urban areas and to help cities meet the air quality standards set in the 1190 Clean Air Act Amendments.
Exposure to MTBE from gasoline can occur in the following situations.
In several areas using MTBE, there have been some complaints of nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. However, these symptoms have never been clearly linked to MTBE exposure. Human health effects of short-term exposures to large amounts of MTBE are not known. Animal studies have shown adverse effects on the nervous system ranging from hyperactivity and incoordination to convulsions and unconsciousness. Human health effects of long-term exposures to smaller amounts of MTBE also are not known. Animal studies have shown kidney damage and adverse effects on fetal development. There is also some indication of cancer development in animals. The levels of MTBE used for animal studies are many times higher than the levels seen for typical human exposures.