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Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 13 June 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what assessment she has made of the potential risks to public health associated with the use of Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether as an additive in gasoline; (76663)

(2) what assessment she has made of whether Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether presents a greater risk to public health than alternative gasoline additives.

The Department has not undertaken a formal comparison of Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) with other fuel additives. However MTBE has been assessed separately.

The Department’s committee on the medical effects of air pollutants (COMEAP) published a statement on the air quality and health implications of MTBE in September 20001. This concluded that

“The addition of MTBE to petrol is unlikely to increase significantly the health risks associated with exposure to ambient air in the UK”.

This conclusion was very similar to that of a major review of the potential health effects of oxygenates, including MTBE, carried out by the Health Effects Institute in 1996 in the United States of America (USA). This concluded that ‘it is unlikely that fuel containing oxygenates would substantially increase the overall health risk from fuel used in motor vehicles’ (levels of MTBE use in the USA are higher than in the United Kingdom).

MTBE has also been evaluated under the existing substances regulations2. This concluded that risks to consumers were not expected as risk reduction measures already being applied are considered sufficient. There were concerns for the potability of drinking water in respect of taste and odour as a consequence of leakage from underground storage tanks and actions to reduce this were recommended. Recommendations were also made to reduce repeated dose local skin effects in workers involved in maintenance operations and automotive repair.


2 Official Journal of the European Communities, Commission Recommendation, 7 November 2001.