A preliminary assessment of the occurrence and possible sources of MTBE in ground water of the United States, 1993-94

Open-File Report 95-456




The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments require fuel oxygenates to be added to gasoline used in some metropolitan areas to reduce atmospheric concen- trations of carbon monoxide or ozone. Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), is the most commonly used fuel oxygenate and is a relatively new gasoline additive. Nevertheless, out of 60 volatile organic chemicals analyzed, MTBE was the second most frequently detected chemical in samples of shallow ambient ground water from urban areas that were collected during 1993-94 as part of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment program. Samples were collected from 5 drinking-water wells, 12 springs, and 193 monitoring wells in urban areas. No MTBE was detected in drinking-water wells. At a reporting level of 0.2 ug/L (micrograms per liter), MTBE was detected most frequently in shallow ground water from urban areas (27 percent of 210 wells and springs sampled in 8 areas) as compared to shallow ground water from agricultural areas (1.3 percent of 549 wells sampled in 21 areas) or deeper ground water from major aquifers (1 percent of 412 wells sampled in 9 areas). Only 3 percent of the shallow wells sampled in urban areas had concentrations of MTBE that exceed 20 ug/L, which is the estimated lower limit of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draft drinking-water health advisory. Because MTBE is persistent and mobile in ground water, it can move from shallow to deeper aquifers with time. In shallow urban ground water, MTBE generally was not found with benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, or xylenes (BTEX) compounds which commonly are associated with gasoline spills. This disassociation causes uncertainty as to the source of MTBE. Possible sources of MTBE in ground water include point sources, such as leaking storage tanks, and nonpoint sources, such as recharge of precipitation and storm-water runoff.

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A preliminary assessment of the occurrence and possible sources of MTBE in ground water of the United States, 1993-94
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey ; Earth Science Information Center, Open-File Reports Section [distributor],
v, 16 p. :ill. ;28 cm.