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Misunderstood MTBE.

Environmental Health Perspectives
Environmental Health Perspectives
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.N4.. -.. * Misunderstood MTBE Your recent article panning methyl-tert- butyl ether use (EHP 102:913) was extremely misleading and focused on unpublished, and therefore not critically reviewed data, which is inconsistent with standards of scientific journals. Given the confusion caused by the article, you should provide more accurate information to your readers on why methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE) is in gasoline and how it is being managed in a manner protective of public health. In 1990, Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments, which contained a requirement to include oxygen in fuel to reduce carbon monoxide (CO) emissions from motor vehicles. Once oxygenates were required by law, the industry began the process of tooling up for the produc- tion of oxygenated fuels. Either alcohols or ethers can be added to provide oxygen and both have been used previously. During the 1979 fuel crisis, alcohols had been added to gasoline to form gasohol. MTBE was added to gasoline as an octane enhancer after the lead phase-out. MTBE had also been used in a three-year pilot CO reduction program in the Southwest beginning in the winter of 1989-1990. There was a considerable body of toxi- cological data on MTBE, including neu- rotoxicity studies, genetic toxicity studies, and reproduction and developmental studies. In addition, preliminary results were available from chronic bioassays in rats and mice prior to the onset of the winter fuels program. These results did not suggest MTBE would be hazardous, particularly at the low concentrations likely to be encountered in fuel use. Thus, required by law to add an oxygenate, industry legitimately made MTBE its principal choice. Ethanol, however, is also widely used, and other compounds such as ethyl-tert-butyl ether, tert-amyl methyl ether, and tert-butyl alcohol are being considered. Oxygenates have been added to winter fuel in 39 cities since November 1992 for CO reduction and are now in reformulated gasoline, which has been required to be sold in approximately

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