Expert panel to review use of MTBE and other oxygenates in gasoline

A blue-ribbon panel of leading experts from the public health and scientific communities, automotive fuels industry, water utilities, and local and State government is to be created to review the issues posed by the use of MTBE and other oxygenates in gasoline.

While the EPA says MTBE and other oxygenates have provided the nation with important clean air benefits, it is creating this panel to gain a better understanding of the public health concerns raised by the discovery of MTBE in some water supplies.

The panel will be chaired by Dr. Daniel Greenbaum, President of the Health Effects Institute (HEI), Cambridge, Mass. Under the direction of Dr. Greenbaum, HEI recently published major reviews on “The Health Effects of Diesel Exhaust” and, “The Health Effects of Oxygenates Added to Gasoline.”

Under the auspices of the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee, the panel will:

– examine the role of oxygenates in meeting the nation’s goal of clean air,

– evaluate each product’s efficiency in providing clean air benefits and the existence of alternatives,

– assess the behaviour of oxygenates in the environment,

– review any known health effects, and

– compare the cost of production and use, and each product’s availability – both at present and in the future.

The panel will also study the causes of groundwater and drinking water contamination from motor vehicle fuels, and explore prevention and cleanup technologies for water and soil. Within six months, it will report to EPA its findings, including specific recommendations on how to ensure public health protection and continued improvement in both air and water quality.

The Clean Air Act of 1990 requires the use of emissions-reducing oxygenated fuels in areas failing to meet national health standards. The Act does not specify which oxygenates are to be used in making cleaner-burning gasoline, leaving that decision to the manufacturer. MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, and ethanol frequently are selected by refiners for producing cleaner-burning gasolines.

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