The gasoline additive commonly known as MTBE, being phased out because it leaks into ground water and may cause cancer, has been found in the Midwest even though it is not used in the region, a researcher said on Thursday.
The additive, methyl tertiary butyl ether, was found in 70 percent of gasoline samples taken from more than 200 sites in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.
``MTBE is not supposed to be there,'' said Reynaldo Barreto of Purdue University, citing the finding as evidence the additive may be contaminating drinking water across the United States.
Presenting his findings at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, Barreto said the most likely source of the MTBE in the Midwest is tankers, storage tanks and pipelines that once carried gasoline containing the additive.
The additive is an oxygenate used in reformulated gasoline to reduce smog but is due to be phased out by the end of 2002. Barreto said MTBE should be banned completely.
Corn-based ethanol is the only alternative oxygenate and it is added to gasoline in parts of Indiana and Illinois, while Michigan uses neither ethanol nor MTBE.
An additive some suspect of causing cancer, MTBE has been found to leech into groundwater throughout California, which is suing for U.S. regulatory permission to make a cleaner gasoline with fewer smog-causing emissions.