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Environmental behavior and fate of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE)

Fact Sheet 203-96

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Abstract

When gasoline that has been oxygenated with methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) comes in contact with water, large amounts of MTBE can dissolve; at 25 degrees Celsius the water solubility of MTBE is about 5,000 milligrams per liter for a gasoline that is 10 percent MTBE by weight. In contrast, for a nonoxygenated gasoline, the total hydrocarbon solubility in water is typically about 120 milligrams per liter. MTBE sorbs only weakly to soil and aquifer materials; therefore, sorption will not significantly retard MTBE's transport by ground water. In addition, MTBE generally resists degradation in ground water. The half-life of MTBE in the atmosphere can be as short as 3 days in a regional airshed. MTBE in the air tends to partition into atmospheric water, including precipitation. However, washout of gas-phase MTBE by precipitation would not, by itself, greatly alter the gas-phase concentration of the compound in the air. The partitioning of MTBE to precipitation is nevertheless strong enough to allow for up to 3 micrograms per liter or more inputs of MTBE to surface and ground water.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Environmental behavior and fate of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE)
Series title:
Fact Sheet
Series number:
203-96
Year Published:
1996
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Description:
6 p.
Online Only (Y/N):
N
Additional Online Files (Y/N):
N