Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) was found in shallow ground-water samples in a study of 8 urban and 20 agricultural areas throughout the United States in 1993 and 1994 (Squillace and others, 1995, p. 1). The compound is added to gasoline either seasonally or year round in many parts of the United States to increase the octane level and to reduce carbon monoxide and ozone levels in the air.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Water Quality Laboratory (NWQL), near Denver, uses state-of-the-art technology to analyze samples for MTBE as part of the USGS water-quality studies. In addition, the NWQL offers custom analyses to determine two other fuel oxygenates--ethyl tert-butyl ether (ETBE) and tert-amyl methyl ether (TAME). The NWQL was not able to obtain a reference standard for tert-amyl ethyl ether (TAEE), another possible fuel oxygenate (Shelley and Fouhy, 1994, p. 63).
The shallow ground-water samples were collected as part of the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program. These samples were collected from 211 urban wells or springs and 562 agricultural wells sampled by the USGS in 1993 and 1994. The wells were keyed to specific land-use areas to assess the effects of different uses on ground-water quality (Squillace and others, 1995, p. 2). Ground-water samples were preserved on site to pH less than or equal to 2 with a solution of 1:1 hydrochloric acid. All samples were analyzed at the NWQL within 2 weeks after collection.
The purpose of this fact sheet is to explain briefly the analytical method implemented by the USGS for determining MTBE and other fuel oxygenates. The scope is necessarily limited to an overview of the analytical method (instrumentation, sample preparation, calibration and quantitation, identification, and preservation of samples) and method performance (reagent blanks, accuracy, and precision).
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
U.S. Geological Survey laboratory method for methyl tert-Butyl ether and other fuel oxygenates