Thirty-one monitoring wells in the Windham aquifer in North Windham, Maine, were sampled for methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) from July 1998 to May 1999. MTBE was detected in 35 percent of the wells sampled in the Windham aquifer. MTBE was detected in 64 percent of wells in the high-yielding part of the aquifer; these wells account for 82 percent of all wells with detectable MTBE. Land cover also was found to be associated with MTBE in the wells in the study area, with the urban and low-density residential areas having more MTBE than undeveloped areas. The median concentration in wells with detectable MTBE was 1.13 micrograms per liter.
Air and precipitation samples were collected in North Windham along with ground-water samples. Air samples were collected every 10 days from December 1998 to July 1999 (20 samples). MTBE was present in all 20 air samples collected, at concentrations ranging from 0.03 ppbv (parts per billion by volume) to 1.0 ppbv. Before Maine opted out of the reformulated gasoline (RFG) program in the spring of 1999, median concentrations in air at the North Windham site were 0.25 ppbv. After Maine stopped using RFG, the median concentration in air dropped to 0.09 ppbv.
No MTBE was detected in four samples of precipitation at North Windham. The lack of rainfall during the study period prevented the collection of an adequate number of samples, and technical difficulties negated the results of some of the analyses of the samples that were collected.
Based on the equilibrium partitioning of MTBE from the air into rain, the hypothetical average concentration of MTBE in rainfall during months when recharge typically occurs (March-April and October-December) would be approximately 0.3 to 0.4 micrograms per liter during the time that RFG was being used in Maine. After the phaseout of RFG, the maximum average concentration of MTBE in rainfall during these months would be approximately 0.1 micrograms per liter.
The distribution and concentrations of MTBE that were detected in ground water indicate that recharge from precipation containing MTBE is not a likely explanation for the occurrence of MTBE in the Windham aquifer.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Methyl tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE) in Ground Water, Air, and Precipitation at North Windham, Maine