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The Next MTBE: Contamination from fuel additives could spread

The recent political debates on the use of two common gasoline additives, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) and ethanol, suggest that refiners may have to rely more on alternative chemicals for oxygenating gas and reducing smog.

A University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) research group has compared the in-ground behavior of MTBE, four alternatives, and basic gasoline constituents, such as benzene. The researchers analyzed data on more than 850 leaking underground fuel tanks in the Los Angeles area, as well as measurements of those contaminants in groundwater at various distances from the tanks. They conclude that at their present concentrations in gasoline, the alternative additives aren't as environmentally prevalent as MTBE, but that reformulations with higher concentrations could create problems comparable to those already caused by MTBE.

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