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Administration to phase out gas additive MTBE

Auto Exhaust

March 20, 2000
Web posted at: 12:11 PM EST (1711 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A gasoline ingredient credited with cleaning the air but blamed for polluting water supplies is on its way out.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture Department planned to announce steps to eliminate the controversial additive Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) from U.S. gasoline supplies at a news conference Monday afternoon.

MTBE, an ingredient that the EPA requires to be included in gasoline sold in many U.S. cities and states, boosts octane power while lessening air pollution.

But since its introduction in 1979, numerous cases of groundwater contamination have been reported, including the contamination of thousands of private drinking water wells in Maine and the pollution of the city water supply of Santa Monica, California

A lead alternative

Since 1992, MTBE use has been mandated under the Clean Air Act in all or parts of 16 states in the Northeast, the Great Lakes region, Texas, and California.

The chemical was originally introduced as a substitute for lead, long used as an octane booster in fuels. The EPA phased out leaded gasoline in the 1970s and 1980s after lead contamination was linked to learning disabilities and slower brain function in humans.

MTBE also has been at the center of a classic Washington power battle: MTBE producers, primarily in Texas and Oklahoma, have defended the product from attacks by both competitors and environmentalists.

The environmentalists first embraced MTBE as a lead alternative and a reducer of air pollution but then switched sides when mounting data suggested a link to groundwater contamination at sites where even small quantities of the chemical leaked from gasoline storage tanks.

Recent studies, including some financed by corn growers who are offering a rival product, have also questioned MTBE's clean-air benefits.

No details or timetable were available on the hastily arranged announcement. EPA spokeswoman Lauren Mical said the decision to begin the phaseout was made this weekend.



RELATED STORIES:
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May 20, 1999
No role seen for ethanol, MTBE in cutting smog
May 13, 1999
Aerosols, clouds, climate get $25 million study
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RELATED SITES:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • OMS, Fuel Oxygenates, MTBE
MTBE STUDY -- Calif. Energy Commission
MTBEcontamination.com
Chevron Gasoline Q & A: MTBE
oxybusters.com: MTBE Manufacturers


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