- Health Effects from MTBE in Gasoline
- By Professor Peter M. Joseph, Ph.D. University
of Pennsylvania School of Medicine Philadelphia, PA 19104 Telephone: 215-662-6679
- June 24, 1999
- MTBE is a chemical that is being put into gasoline under
orders of the federal government in certain regions of the country. Many
people find that it is causing them various kinds of illness. The symptoms
can be either respiratory, neurological, cardiac, or allergic. Respiratory
means any part of your respiratory system can be affected, including sinuses,
nose, and throat, and can cause cough or trouble breathing. Asthma especially
has been made worse by this problem. The neurological symptoms can include
insomnia, anxiety, dizziness, nausea, headache, attention deficit disorder,
or heart palpitations. The allergic symptoms include watery or itchy eyes
and skin rash. The easiest way to determine if you have this problem is
to travel to a region of the country where MTBE is not required to be in
all gasoline and see if your condition improves. In many cases, people
find that their symptoms get worse at night and on dark cloudy days without
rain, but get better when the sun is shining.
- 1.What is MTBE?
- MTBE means Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether. It is a special
kind of ether and is known to have effects on the brain. It contains oxygen
inside each molecule, so it is used to add oxygen to gasoline. For this
reason it is called an "oxygenate". The purpose of oxygenating
gasoline is to reduce the amount of carbon monoxide (abbreviated CO) gas
that cars produce. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas produced by automobiles,
so the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is trying to reduce it to
improve our health. The EPA says that MTBE reduces CO by at most 20%, but
a recent review by government scientists indicates that CO is reduced by
at most 5-10%. That small reduction is very unlikely to be of help to anyone.
- MTBE is one component of the new so-called "reformulated
gasoline" (abbreviated RFG). RFG must, by definition, contain the
equivalent of at least 11% of MTBE. However, since the winter of 1992-93
certain regions of the country have been required to have gas containing
15% MTBE. Those regions include New York City and surrounding regions in
Connecticut and New Jersey, Philadelphia and its surrounding four suburban
counties, Baltimore, Washington DC, and all of California. (There may also
be other cities that I am not aware of; ask your local EPA office for details.)
In most areas, this was done from November 1 to March 1 during the winters
of 1992-93, 1993-94, and 1994-95. Since January 1, 1995, all of these regions
plus many more have been required to use RFG all year round. In most places,
RFG will contain 11% MTBE, although in a few states (Washington, Oregon,
Montana, and Minnesota) ethanol is used as the oxygenate rather than MTBE.
Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, is exactly the same kind of alcohol
that is used in alcoholic beverages. Again, your local EPA or state Department
of Environmental Protection is the best source of information for your
- In December 1994 Pennsylvania canceled the MTBE program
in all of Pennsylvania except for the 5 county Philadelphia area. However,
in some areas of Pennsylvania gasoline with MTBE was still being sold even
though it was not required. It may happen that the EPA will soon require
that Pittsburgh use RFG again.
- 2.What are the health concerns for MTBE?
- The EPA and others have done many animal experiments
with MTBE. At high doses, larger than those you would normally encounter,
it basically makes the animals drunk. So far, most of the animal experiments
do not indicate any really bad effects from doses you are likely to receive
in the air. However, some people react badly to MTBE, usually with headache,
nausea, dizziness, or other signs of illness. These people will experience
these problems when driving in heavy traffic or when pumping gasoline.
- A famous scientist in Italy, Dr. Cesare Maltoni, has
conducted experiments in which he showed that rats got cancer when exposed
to MTBE. Some cancer experts at the EPA agree that MTBE should be classified
as a carcinogen. It was not so many years ago that people thought that
benzene was safe, and in fact, some automobile mechanics used to wash their
hands in it! Benzene is a chemical that used to be very common in gasoline,
but now we know that benzene really does cause cancer. In fact, one of
the goals of the RFG program is specifically to reduce the amount of benzene
in gasoline to less than 1%.
- It is interesting to note that the 1990 Clean Air Act,
which requires the use of either MTBE or some other oxygenate, also lists
MTBE as a hazardous chemical whose presence in the environment should be
reduced! For example, it is known to be very toxic when present in drinking
water. Unlike normal gasoline, it easily dissolves in water and so is practically
impossible to remove once it gets into the underground water supply.
- It is also interesting to compare the toxicities of benzene
and MTBE. EPA regulations require that if certain quantities of either
substance are accidentally spilled, they must be reported. EPA regulation
40 CFR 302 (CERCLA Section 102) requires that any spill of more than 1
pound of MTBE must be reported, whereas only spills of 10 pounds or more
of benzene must be reported. This implies that the EPA thinks that MTBE
is 10 times more dangerous than benzene. In RFG gasoline they specifically
require that benzene be limited to less than 1%, whereas they nevertheless
require that RFG contain 11% MTBE or equivalent.
- 3.What other chemicals are involved?
- Theoretically, MTBE in your gas tank should burn up inside
your car's engine and leave no residue. However, no automobile is 100%
efficient, so some MTBE does come out of the exhaust. The exact amount
probably depends on how new your car's engine is. Old cars usually emit
more pollution than new cars.
- In addition to MTBE, automobile combustion also produces
another chemical, called formaldehyde, in the exhaust. Formaldehyde is
known to be toxic, and is considered to be a major source of air quality
problems and illness when indoors. For example, certain types of cheap
wood (plywood, particle board) are known sources of formaldehyde. The amount
of formaldehyde emitted when MTBE is in gasoline is definitely higher than
without MTBE, although the exact amount is hard to pin down. Measurements
from tail pipes indicate an increase of roughly 30 to 50%. Measurements
in a tunnel in San Francisco showed an increase of 38%.
- Another known byproduct of MTBE combustion is formic
acid. According to one medical reference book, formic acid can produce
eye irritation, tearing, nasal discharge, throat irritation, coughing,
trouble breathing, nausea, and skin rashes.
- In fact, in all of the studies of automobile exhaust
gases so far, there is roughly 5% of the exhaust that is called simply
"unidentified hydrocarbons". This means that there are other
chemicals being produced that have not been identified. I think that a
very likely unidentified chemical is methyl nitrite, also very toxic. There
are several known cases of people becoming hospitalized after accidental
exposure to small amounts of methyl nitrite. If untreated, this can lead
to a strange kind of death in which the body actually turns blue! Methyl
nitrite is easily destroyed by sunlight, so this could explain why some
people get much worse at night or on cloudy days.
- Once we breath in MTBE, it circulates in our bloodstream
and enters all of our body's organs, including the brain, liver, developing
fetus, etc. The liver converts it into formaldehyde and also another chemical
called tertiary butyl alcohol (TBA). In most people it does this within
a time span of one to two hours. Formaldehyde is known to be a toxic chemical
that converts into formic acid and affects the brain. As for TBA, the human
body is not well equipped to detoxify TBA, and it requires anywhere from
several hours to two days for it to be eliminated. During this time you
may experience symptoms from the TBA in your body. You should understand
that TBA is different from the kind of alcohol in alcoholic beverages;
that kind is called ethanol. The healthy human body can process and eliminate
ethanol much more easily than TBA; that is why a person with a lot of ethanol
in his blood does not remain drunk for more than a few hours after he stops
- Recent research by scientists at the EPA has shown that
using MTBE in gasoline causes an enormous increase in the amount of isobutylene
in the exhaust. The amount depends strongly on the outside temperature,
being worse in cold weather. At very frigid winter conditions, isobutylene
is increased by 550% relative to ordinary gasoline! Isobutylene is a rather
reactive chemical whose effect on the respiratory and nervous system has
not been studied. How can people claim that this increase is good for our
- When the MTBE is in the air, another chemical reaction
also occurs; it can be converted into a chemical called tertiary butyl
formate (TBF). Until recently, the EPA and other MTBE proponents have totally
ignored TBF. This is tragic since it is apparently extremely irritating
to the respiratory system and could be responsible for many of the symptoms
that people are experiencing. Very little scientific information is known
about the toxic properties of TBF. However, it can be purchased as a research
chemical, and its manufacturer gives this information on its toxic effects:
- ACUTE EFFECTS
- HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED, INHALED, OR ABSORBED THROUGH THE
SKIN MATERIAL IS EXTREMELY DESTRUCTIVE TO TISSUE OF THE MUCOUS MEMBRANES
AND UPPER RESPIRATORY TRACT, EYES, AND SKIN. INHALATION MAY BE FATAL AS
A RESULT OF SPASM, INFLAMMATION AND EDEMA OF THE LARYNX AND BRONCHI, CHEMICAL
PNEUMONITIS AND PULMONARY EDEMA. SYMPTOMS OF EXPOSURE MAY INCLUDE BURNING
SENSATION, COUGHING, WHEEZING, LARYNGITIS, SHORTNESS OF BREATH, HEADACHE,
NAUSEA AND VOMITING. TO THE BEST OF OUR KNOWLEDGE, THE CHEMICAL, PHYSICAL,
AND TOXICOLOGICAL PROPERTIES HAVE NOT BEEN THOROUGHLY INVESTIGATED.
- So, TBF and formic acid are highly toxic chemicals of
the type known as "respiratory irritants". Other chemicals with
similar toxic properties are known to induce asthma attacks as well as
inhibit the body's natural defense against respiratory infections, such
as cold, flu, pneumonia, etc. For example, the New York Times reported
on January 17, 1995 that the flu was exceptionally bad in New York City
and parts of Connecticut, but not in upstate New York. The areas that had
a bad flu season, such as Philadelphia, were exactly those areas that have
had 15% MTBE in the previous winters. Other cities, such as Boston, which
just got MTBE in January were not as hard hit because those people have
not been exposed to it as long as New York City. In December 1995 the New
York Times reported that the flu had struck especially early that year,
"in spades". In November 1996, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported
that the flu was in full force by the middle of November and that three
suburban schools had been forced to close down entirely; such a closing
was historically unprecedented. Thus it appears that, at least in Philadelphia
and New York City, people are less resistant to the flu than in previous
- It is important to understand that you do not have to
be in a car or at a gas station to be affected by these chemicals. They
will be in the air throughout the polluted urban environment, so you can
experience symptoms while at work, at home, or even in the hospital!
- 4.Who is affected?
- The key idea is chemical sensitivity. Some people are
much more sensitive to certain chemicals than others; this is similar to
being allergic. This effect is known to exist, but the medical facts are
not well understood. Unlike allergy, it can not usually be treated with
antihistamines or other drugs. Evidently most people are not sensitive
to these chemicals or else we would see more people becoming sick from
MTBE. However, it appears that approximately 5 to 10 percent of the people
are sensitive to at least one of the previously mentioned four chemicals.
It is possible to be sensitive to more than one.
- It is well known from experience in the chemical industry
that someone who is not sensitive can become sensitive to a given chemical
by being repeatedly exposed to it over a long period of time. This seems
to be happening with MTBE and its byproducts (TBF and formic acid), because
with each passing month more people are complaining about sensitivity symptoms.
This can happen to anyone, but it appears to be most prevalent in people
over the age of 40 (especially women) and perhaps in children with allergies
- Automobile mechanics and gas station workers who must
breath MTBE and exhaust fumes all day are showing more and more signs of
illness. Some have become so sick they have been forced to quit their jobs
or close their repair shops.
- 5.What are the symptoms that people are reporting?
- The symptoms can be roughly divided into four categories:
respiratory, neurological, allergic, and cardiac.
- Respiratory symptoms are due to irritation of the tissues
in lungs, bronchial tubes, and nasal passages. The result feels much like
a cold. Some people report sudden difficulty in breathing; that is a serious
problem for which they should see a doctor as soon as possible. (Also,
it is possible that the irritation produced can inhibit your body's natural
defense against a true cold, although this has not been proven.) One common
symptom is a long lasting cough that never seems to get better. Another
common symptom is chronic inflammation of the sinuses. Also, many people
with this problem just feel terrible, sort of "sick all over".
A sense of hot flushing in the skin around the head and neck can occur.
- Neurological symptoms include nervousness, dizziness,
spacey feeling, "lightheadedness", nausea, insomnia, and headache.
Some people describe this as like having a cloth wrapped around your brain,
or being drunk. Some people have trouble with short term memory. A common
problem is difficulty in concentrating on complex tasks, such as reading
a complicated newspaper article or paying attention to traffic while driving.
It is possible that this is the cause of the recent increase in attention
deficit disorder (ADD) in schoolchildren in MTBE regions of the country.
- The allergic symptoms include watering in the eyes, discharge
of fluid in the throat, or skin rash.
- Some people are reporting heart palpitations from exposure
to auto exhaust or on bad weather days. There have also been many reports
of apparently healthy young athletes dying of unexpected heart attacks,
especially on cloudy days. If you experience this sort of problem, especially
late at night, you should consult a doctor. Be sure to show him or her
a copy of this report, because most doctors are not aware of this effect.
- Some people report that they have attacks of chest pain
or heart palpitations while driving in traffic. Some scientists believe
that TBF or formic acid can affect the beating of the heart through its
effect on the nervous system, but this has not been proven. Nevertheless,
statistics show a remarkable increase in the death rate from heart disease
in New York city as soon as MTBE was mandated in 1992, and California newspapers
report that some people are having heart attacks while driving through
the tunnel between San Francisco and Oakland.
- The symptoms you will feel will depend on which of these
chemicals you are sensitive to. Actually, the details of this problem are
not known, so it is hard to be more specific than this.
- 6.How do you know if you have this condition?
- The respiratory symptoms are very similar to other diseases,
especially to asthma or the common cold. The neurological symptoms could
be caused by some other serious medical problem, such as anemia or brain
tumor. You should get checked out by a doctor if you have these symptoms.
The best way to determine if you have the MTBE problem is to take note
of what factors influence it. It is bound to be worst when in the center
of a big city or near a major highway. If you can travel to another part
of the country that does not require MTBE in gasoline, you can see if your
symptoms go away.
- One professor of medicine at USC in California, Dr. Nachman
Brautbar, has developed a special blood test for people exposed to MTBE.
In some cases of high exposure, such as automechanics or people drinking
MTBE contaminated water for several years, his tests show that the blood
has been affected. However, in other cases people not exposed directly
to MTBE fumes, but nevertheless who get sick from the exhausts products
in the air, do not show anything wrong as judged by currently available
blood tests. No one has attempted to develop a test for the kind of sickness
caused by breathing the exhaust fumes.
- 7.Where is MTBE being used?
- This is complicated, since in some states it is practically
required in all gasoline, in some states it is required only in certain
counties, while in other states where ethanol is being used as the oxygenate
there is practically no MTBE at all in the gasoline. States using only
ethanol for oxygenate include Alaska, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Washington,
and parts of Colorado. Many midwestern states are using ethanol in preference
to MTBE. So far, most of Pennsylvania except for Philadelphia, Delaware,
Chester, Montgomery, and Bucks counties do not have mandatory MTBE-RFG.
Obviously, if you want to escape MTBE it would be good to go to a very
rural area. New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, including their
shore areas, have MTBE-RFG everywhere. However, some people have reported
they feel better at some of the more isolated areas of the Jersey shore,
such as Cape May. North Carolina has stopped using all oxygenated gasoline
specifically because of bad health effects from MTBE, although MTBE is
still being used as an octane enhancer in high octane grades of gasoline.
In Texas, the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas have MTBE-RFG, and it
may expand to other regions. Most of Maryland and Virginia, including Washington
DC, have MTBE-RFG.
- Another isolated area with MTBE-RFG is Louisville, KY.
Also, the St. Louis, MO, area just started in on June 1, 1999.
- All of California has been using MTBE-RFG since mid 1996,
although in the winter it started several years before that. In that state
over 100,000 people have signed petitions against MTBE, and the Oxybuster
organization has managed to make it an important public issue. Practically
all of the state's water commissioners have publically stated their opposition
to MTBE, and Governor Gray Davis has recently announced his intention to
start a total phase out MTBE over a three year period.
- Most of Oregon is using ethanol rather than MTBE as the
oxygenate in their gasoline. However, Mr. Ric Holt, a county commissioner
in Jackson county (Medford) Oregon says that in his area the gasoline does
contain significant amounts of MTBE. Medford is about 30 miles from the
California border, and he says the gasoline in his area is imported from
California, which means it is oxygenated with MTBE. Mr. Holt says that
public health has declined in his area because of this, and he has organized
another chapter of Oxybusters to oppose it. This is the first instance
in which a government official has seen fit to found a chapter of Oxybusters!
The implications are that if one wishes to escape MTBE by travel to Oregon,
one should go to the northern portion of the state.
- If you are not sure whether MTBE is being required in
your area, there are two things you can do to find out. The simplest is
to just smell the gasoline at the pump, since MTBE has a very strong and
distinctive odor that most people find very obnoxious. Another source of
information is your local EPA office or state office of environmental protection.
The best sequence of calls is as follows:(1) call state environmental office,
ask who is in charge of air quality. (2) call air quality, ask who is is
charge of gasoline. (3) call the person in charge of gasoline.
- 8.Weather Effects.
- Weather plays a very important role in the symptoms of
many people with this problem. Many people find that their symptoms get
much better when the sun is shining and worse at night or on dark cloudy
days when it is not raining. This may be because sunlight disperses the
formic acid, although this has not been proven. It is also possible that
another possible byproduct of MTBE, called TBN, may be involved because
it is definitely destroyed by sunlight. At the present time, we do not
know the exact identity of the chemical that gets worse on cloudy days.
- On the other hand, if it is cloudy but raining then people
usually feel better because the rain clears the air of many pollutants,
including MTBE and TBF.
- However, there are some people who do not get better
when the sun is shining and yet are convinced that their symptoms are related
to MTBE because they feel better on travel to regions without MTBE gasoline.
This must mean they are sensitive to some other chemical whose nature has
not yet been determined, but formic acid is a possibility.
- 9.What about pumping gas?
- Some people feel especially ill when they are pumping
gasoline, and try to avoid it at all costs. The symptoms, which usually
include dizziness or wooziness, can last for several hours. In several
cases people have had serious automobile accidents soon after pumping MTBE
gasoline. If you get symptoms only during or soon after buying gasoline,
you might try to find a brand without MTBE. For example, on the east coast
Getty Oil Co. usually uses ethanol instead of MTBE in the winter months.
However, during the summer the EPA has forced them to use MTBE instead
- 10.How do we know about this problem?
- MTBE was first put into gas at a high level in Denver
in 1988-89. The EPA set up a "hot line" on which to take complaints.
They said there were very few. However, some sensitive people living in
Colorado insist that the EPA never listened to their complaints; these
people have been suffering ever since! In the winter of 1992-93, MTBE was
also introduced into Alaska. In the city of Fairbanks, there was a huge
rise in all of the previously mentioned symptoms with almost half of the
city complaining. The problem was so obvious that the EPA hired doctors
from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to investigate. The CDC study
implied that MTBE was causing the illness. Governor Hickel of Alaska ordered
all MTBE out of the state, and the symptoms promptly disappeared! The CDC
then did a similar study in Stamford, Connecticut and found similar problems.
Furthermore, they found that the intensity of the peoples' symptoms was
directly related to the amount of MTBE in their blood. In Missoula, Montana,
MTBE was used as an oxygenate in 1992-93. There were many reports of the
symptoms discussed here. Two-thirds of the doctors there noticed that their
asthmatic patients got worse. A citizens action group organized opposition
and managed to get MTBE removed from their city. The result was a dramatic
decrease in these symptoms.
- The EPA, however, rejected the CDC and Missoula findings
and refused to allow the CDC to conduct any more investigations. The EPA
is now pushing for this program to be expanded to even more states. The
most important step is to write to your senators and congresspersons and
ask them to change the law that requires that we use oxygenate chemicals
in our gasoline. Senators Feinstein and Boxer of California should especially
be contacted for this purpose.
- In 1995, the White House Office of Science and Technology
Policy appointed several high level committees of scientists to look into
this problem. The committee on air pollution concluded that the use of
MTBE and other oxygenates has provided very little, if any, improvement
in the air quality as normally determined. (They did not consider the increase
in TBF and formic acid in the air!) The committee on health effects wrote
a rather ambiguous report in which they admitted that people with allergies
and older people may be more sensitive and recommended that more research
be done. They did not consider TBF, formic acid, or the tremendous increase
in asthma in cities where MTBE is being required.
- These reports were severely criticized by a special "blue
ribbon" committee of non government scientists appointed by the National
Academy of Sciences (NAS). The NAS is the highest body of scientific expertise
in the country. The NAS report, released in June 1996, concluded that there
is no evidence at all that using MTBE in gasoline is cleaning the air and
may even be making ozone worse! They also indicated that they could not
rule out the possibility that some people are becoming sick from MTBE in
gasoline and recommended more research to see if that is true. They also
recommended that TBF be measured routinely in the air, something that has
not yet been done.
- In June 1997, the White House Office of Science and Technology
Policy issued the "Interagency Assessment of Oxygenated Fuels",
which pretty much mirrors the NAS report. They never considered any possible
link to asthma, and never considered the production of formic acid in MTBE
exhaust. Nevertheless, the proponents of MTBE put out press releases claiming
that the report exonerates MTBE. What it does say is that "the studies
can not rule out the possibility that some people do experience more symptoms
from exposure to oxygenated gasoline ... many basic questions ... remain"
(page 4-14). Also, "reports of acute health symptoms among some individuals
... can not be dismissed" (page 4-15). This report failed to even
consider the production of formic acid in the exhaust of MTBE-RFG, or its
impact on asthma.
- The proponents of MTBE will point out that it has been
used in gasoline since 1979 with, they say, "no problems". However,
asthma has been increasing dramatically over exactly that time span. The
Philadelphia Inquirer on June 11, 1995 ran an article entitled "Asthma's
Grip Baffles the Experts", in which they said that asthma deaths in
Philadelphia had tripled since 1981, and that the cause was unknown. The
article made it clear that we are now living with a real epidemic of this
terrible, sometimes fatal, disease. Several newspaper reports from New
York City indicate really huge increases in some parts of the city, with
one school in the Bronx showing one-third of the students with asthma.
On April 13, 1997 the New York Daily news ran an article that said "New
York is the asthma capital of the nation". Recent statistics from
the Philadelphia Department of Health indicate a 62% increase in asthma
office visits from 1993 to 1996. In view of the highly toxic effect that
formic acid has on the respiratory system, the use of MTBE in gasoline
has to be number one on the list of suspected causes. Practically all schools
in the Philadelphia, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York City regions
are reporting huge increases in asthma over the last few years that the
asthma doctors are totally unable to explain. In Stamford, CT, the doctors
noticed that the increase is worst for those children who live near Interstate
I-95 and who play under the overpasses, obviously breathing a large amount
of car exhaust. The Stamford Department of Health indicates that the percentage
of children there with asthma jumped from 8% in 1991 to 24% in 1996. Similarly,
studies by asthma doctors in Philadelphia showed even higher percentages
of children with asthma. These high percentages have never been seen before
in human history, and are so high that some doctors just can't believe
them! We desperately need to get more statistics on the increase of asthma
in school children. There is also evidence of a huge increase in the incidence
of asthma appearing for the first time in adults, something that used to
be rare, because asthma usually appears first in childhood.
- 12.Water Pollution.
- It is now widely acknowledged in the scientific community
that underground water can become contaminated with MTBE. This will occur
if there is a leak of gasoline into the ground, either from a spill or,
more likely, from an underground storage tank that is slowly leaking over
a period of months or years. The fact that MTBE is much more soluble in
water than conventional gasoline, and is very difficult to remove once
dissolved, makes this problem much worse than with conventional gasoline.
In California, the city of Santa Monica was forced to shut down several
of the main municipal water wells for this reason. In several areas, residents
have been forced to switch to bottled or filtered water because of MTBE
contamination. The amount that is considered safe in water differs in different
regions; most states have safe levels from 20 parts per billion to 70 ppb.
Some scientists think that even 5 ppb can be too much.
- An important case developed in a community near Wilmington,
NC over the mid 1980's to 1997. On two separate occasions, high octane
gasoline (not RFG) with MTBE leaked into the ground water over a period
of years before the leaks were discovered. Several hundred people living
in a trailer park were later exposed to this "plume" of MTBE.
Many of these people became ill with various symptoms, most of which have
already been described. No one knew that MTBE was the cause of their illness.
- However, in the summer of 1995 I was interviewed for
an article about MTBE by Dan Jones in the Hartford, CT, Courant. This article
was also reprinted in several newspapers in other parts of the country.
People in Atlanta, GA, who had previously lived in the polluted Wilmington
area saw the article and passed it along to their old friends in North
Carolina. Mr. James Devane, a resident of the trailer park, called me and
discussed the problems there. I referred him to Drs. Myron Mehlman, of
Princeton, NJ, and Nachman Brautbar, of Los Angeles; these are toxicologists
who have been studying MTBE. Mr. Devane and other residents hired a law
firm to press a law suit, and Dr. Brautbar was hired as the medical expert.
Dr. Brautbar examined 175 of the sick residents, and did special blood
tests that proved that their immune systems had been affected by MTBE.
As a result of this testimony, a civil jury found that the oil company,
Conoco, was liable for the injuries to those people and a multimillion
dollar settlement was reached. This is the first time that a successful
lawsuit has been raised against an oil company because of illness caused
by exposure to MTBE. Sadly, it will probably not be the last.
- Another case of terrible water pollution from MTBE is
in Glenville, CA. This has just come to light and scientific and legal
work is just beginning. The people there say they can not sell their houses
now because the water is contaminated with MTBE.
- 13.What can be done about this?
- In many states where MTBE has been used, citizen action
groups have formed to oppose MTBE. In New Jersey a group called "Oxybusters"
has accumulated over 13,000 petition signatures, and in Pennsylvania so
far 2000 signatures. However, in most states government officials have
so far ignored these petitions. That is why a letter to your elected officials
is more effective than just signing a petition.
- In California, the Oxybusters group has had much more
success. With the support of a San Francisco talk radio station, they gathered
over 100,000 petition signatures. Strong support by radio station KSFO
in San Francisco was crucial in helping Oxybusters to bring the problem
to the attention of the public. On April 15, 1997 a bill (SB521) was introduced
into the California Senate to (essentially) ban MTBE. After hearing testimony
from three scientists, as well as several citizens whose health has been
affected, the Transportation Committee modified the bill to study rather
than ban MTBE, and voted 7- 1 to pass it. This ultimately resulted in the
decision by Governor Grey Davis in March 1999 to phase out MTBE over a
three year period. While this is certainly a major victory, officials in
California still do not acknowledge that MTBE is causing asthma or making
- Another important activity is to somehow educate the
public on the importance of this issue. This can be done by writing letters
to your local newspaper. Do not expect doctors to be sympathetic, because
they are usually very resistant to the suggestion that there is a new disease
that they know nothing about. This is true even for those who suffer from
it personally. However, after many months of seeing data and evidence they
may eventually come to believe that we are right.
- Probably the most effective technique to bring this to
public attention is talk radio. Talk show hosts with a conservative political
point of view are often supportive. However, in Connecticut, at least one
talk show host with a strong environmental background has broadcast a program
explaining the hazards of MTBE.
- One very very helpful activity is to write a report on
how MTBE in gasoline has affected your health and life. If you can honestly
say that you have gotten sick with a condition that the doctors can not
explain or treat, and that your symptoms get worse when driving in heavy
traffic, or get better when you go to regions without MTBE, then your story
can become powerful testimony and evidence that MTBE is making problems.
Please send these reports to me, and give me permission to duplicate and
transmit your letter. Try to concentrate on what has happened to you and
your family; please try to avoid political and scientific essays, because
these can be disputed. If you can say what has happened to you, no one
in the world can contradict you!
- You can also make copies of this report and distribute
them to friends, colleagues, and leave stacks wherever the public gathers,
such as in pharmacies or doctors' offices.
- The following telephone numbers will reach Oxybusters
or other citizens action committees against MTBE:
- California: 415-263-0248, email email@example.com
- Connecticut: 203-358-0780
- Maine: 207-883-4691
- New Jersey: 609-275-7080, 609-589-6325
- Oregon: 541-776-7234
- Pennsylvania: 215-927-4206
- Texas: 713-664-2166, FAX=713-664-0721, 888-448-7681,
- email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- In addition, some Oxybuster chapters have set up webpages:
The one by George Marshall of Oxybusters of Texas is at http://www.oxybusters.org
and has several of my papers including this one.
- Oxybusters of California has an excellent site at http://smogrfg.com
This one includes extensive information on the history of the legal oposition
to MTBE in California, as well as the massive university of California
Report of December 1998. This site also includes political commentary from
a conservative point of view.
- The University of Connecticut maintains this one: http://www.sp.uconn.edu/~an226vc/newsltpg.htm#mtbe#
- Amazingly, the EPA itself provides this report by an
official of the New Jersey DEP on water polluted by MTBE: http://www.epa.gov/swerust1/mtbe/briefs/njdep/tsld001.htm
- Somebody at MIT has a copy of the 1995 Hartford Courant
article at http://the-tech.mit.edu/V115/N38/gas.38w.html This article has
a very interesting history, see the discussion above about water pollution
in North Carolina
- Call Dr. Peter Joseph, Hospital of the University of
Pennsylvania 215-662-6679 for more information or to help in this matter.