MTBE Absorption May Cause Severe Risks

Aug 27 07:21 2008 Peter Kent Print This Article

Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE) is a substance that was often mixed with gasoline to reduce emissions. However, it was discovered that MTBEs can cause adverse health effects to individuals and is especially available for inhalation as well as absorption into the body and into water and food supplies thus causing serious consequences.

Methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) is one of various additives used to oxygenate gasoline. These substances are blended with gasoline to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (MTBE also reduces other toxic chemical compounds in vehicle emissions). MTBE has been in use since 1979,Guest Posting primarily in response to the diminishing use of lead in gasoline.

Areas in America that had high levels of CO2 in 1990, were subject to the use of oxygenated gas as according to the Clean Air Act Amendments. Unfortunately, these areas are characterized as urban and a large population of individuals were allegedly in contact with dangerous levels of MTBE. The positive aspect of the blend of gasoline and MTBE (which is highly flammable) is that it allows a much cleaner burn and less environmentally harmful emissions. Of the reformulated gasoline (RFG) mandated by this act, over 85% contain MTBE.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), although the use of MTBE appears noble, its use has caused many health and safety concerns for people who are exposed to it.

Not only can individuals suffer health risks by inhaling MTBE, but the contamination of potable water stores, and thus ingestion, are other very real concerns. Water contamination can happen through the leakage from gasoline storage or transport units, most of which are located underground.

MTBE has a very high level of solubility and there have been many incidences of water contamination all over the country, especially in places of high population density (such as California and New England). Unfortunately, MTBE can be easily absorbed into water but is much more difficult to separate from water. On the other hand, in air, it quickly evaporates and produces a vapor which has a very distinct, unpleasant odor. Breathing this vapor can result in discomfort as described below under symptoms.

Individuals who feel they may be at risk for exposure to MTBE inhalation or water contamination should contact a state drinking water agency as soon as possible, according to the National Center for Environmental Health of the Centers for Disease Control. Usually high levels of MTBE are characterized by the strong odor associated with it, however, the level of harm from this is still unkown. Most individuals who have come into contact with MTBE can detect the chemical in the bloodstream, urine as well as the breath for nearly two days after initial exposure.

While not considered as dangerous as Benzene (an element that MTBE replaces in gasoline) MTBE is a carcinogen at high enough exposure levels, as shown by laboratory experiments on animals conducted by the CDC. However, no governmental bodies have claimed to find sufficient evidence to recognize MTBE as a possible human carcinogen. Part of this reasoning is that it is eventually broken down and removed from the body, thus long term accumulation is not a risk.

Because most individuals are not exposed to MTBE unless it is with gasoline, scientists have had a difficult time establishing concrete evidence of the MTBE side effects.

Specifically, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has still reserved a definitive judgment on the adverse health effects of MTBE. Many other studies have been conducted though and indicate that the following are symptoms found after contact with MTBE.

Symptoms from inhalation include:

* Headaches

* Cough

* Nose or throat burning

* Other respiratory irritation

* Lightheadedness

* Eye irritation

* Nausea

* Vomiting

* Dizziness, "spaciness" or disorientation

Possible health issues resulting from ingestion or dermal contact (i.e. drinking, swimming or showering) include:

* Gastrointestinal irritation

* Liver and kidney damage and possibly liver and kidney cancer

* Nervous system effects ranging from hyperactivity and

incoordination to convulsions and unconsciousness

* Risks to healthy fetal development

Obviously, at the expense of the health of the general public, requiring oxygenating additives in gasoline has been a mixed blessing. Indeed, before the federal government suggested the use of MTBE, and before gas and oil companies began adding it, more research should have been done as to its effects on the environment and human health.

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Peter Kent
Peter Kent

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