MTBE and Other Fuel Oxygenates

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MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether) is almost exclusively used as a fuel additive in motor gasoline. Because MTBE raises the oxygen content of gasoline, it and similar chemicals are known as “oxygenates.” Oxygen helps gasoline burn more completely, reducing harmful tailpipe emissions from motor vehicles. However, MTBE and other oxygenates threaten domestic groundwater supplies when gasoline from underground storage tanks seeps into groundwater. New studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and others indicate widespread contamination of the U.S. drinking water supplies by MTBE and other oxygenates. Traditional methods of removing gasoline constituents from groundwater do not work well for MTBE.

The MTBE Team operated throughout 2002 with minimal funding. During this first year of a multiyear program addressing key technical aspects of removing MTBE, tert-butyl alcohol (TBA), and other ether- and alcohol-based fuel oxygenates from groundwater, the team completed a draft technology overview document and started preparing a Web-based database of innovative treatment technologies. Both products will be ready for broad distribution during the first and second quarters of 2003. During the summer of 2003, the team will begin preparing technical content for classroom and Internet-based training, tentatively scheduled for winter 2003 and spring 2004.

GOP Congressional victories during the November 2002 elections leave many doubts about the future of MTBE regulation at the federal level. At this time, states are leading any coordinated efforts to ban or regulate the use and/or treatment and disposal of MTBE, TBA, or other related fuel oxygenates. The MTBE Team continues to serve as a leading forum for state-led efforts to regulate MTBE as well as promote clear national guidance on MTBE risk standards. Members of the MTBE Team actively coordinate and participate in other groups, including the Remediation Technologies Development Forum (RTDF), the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO), USEPA, and the American Petroleum Institute. Fred McGarry (N.H.), MTBE team founder, leads the group into its second year.