MTBE is not a carcinogen, California rules
December 15, 1998
By Environmental News Network staff
(ENN) -- The gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether will not be listed as a carcinogen or as a substance that causes birth defects or infertility by the state of California.
The decision was announced by the California Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment's Proposition 65 committee during policy meetings last week.
The committee is responsible for maintaining a list of chemicals known to the state as causing cancer or reproductive toxicity. The list, which must be updated at least once a year, is mandated under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 which addresses concerns about exposures to toxic chemicals.
MTBE is added to California's gasoline to help curb air pollution, but environmental groups claim that it is a carcinogen and is leaking from at least 20,000 underground storage tanks, contaminating the state's drinking water.
The committee's ruling was praised by the Oxygenated Fuels Association, an industry group that represents manufacturers of the chemical.
"We commend the panels for thoroughly reviewing all of the available scientific information and making an informed and reasonable decision based on fact," said Terry Wigglesworth, executive director of the association.
Wigglesworth pointed to recent reviews by independent organizations that conclude MTBE is not carcinogenic to humans, including one from the World Health Organization that said MTBE is not classifiable as carcinogenic for humans.
"Clearly the scientific community is of one mind on this issue, MTBE is neither carcinogenic nor dangerous. OEHHA's findings support our belief that MTBE is the most effective weapon we have for fighting air pollution in California," he said.
Despite last week's ruling, the University of California at Davis submitted a report to California Governor Pete Wilson in November that recommended California begin a gradual phase-out of MTBE from its clean-air gasoline program.
As well, the town of South Lake Tahoe banned MTBE from its gas pumps at a city council meeting in October. The ban, which is effective as of April 1999, was implemented out of concerns that MTBE was contaminating the town's drinking water.
To further bolster the argument against MTBE, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article Monday claiming that the gasoline additive has contaminated water in at least 13 states and makes the case for a phase out of MTBE.
MTBE has been used in California since 1989 and, according to the California Air Resources Board, is responsible for reducing smog-forming emissions by 300 tons per day.
Copyright 1998, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved
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