New Report Gives Ethanol an OK to Replace MTBE in Gasoline

Dec. 28, 2000
"This report puts a respected scientific stamp on what we've known all along -- ethanol is a safe, environmentally-friendly gasoline additive," said Eric Vaughn, President of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). "Putting ethanol in gasoline helps the environment and is safe for humans. This study shows we will not repeat the MTBE disaster. Ethanol is a cost-competitive replacement for MTBE that is safe. Oil refiners should immediately begin to move from toxic MTBE to clean, renewable ethanol as the oxygen additive in gasoline." The RFA delivered the report to the U.S. EPA, Department of Energy, and Department of Agriculture who testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee concerning the MTBE crisis and the future of renewable fuels. Cambridge Environmental Inc., a leading environmental consulting firm, prepared the report for the RFA. The report contained the following conclusions: ? Exposure to ethanol vapors coming from ethanol-blended gasoline is very unlikely to have any adverse health consequences. Because ethanol is naturally present in blood and the body rapidly eliminates ethanol, exposure to ethanol vapors, except in unlikely extreme cases, does not significantly elevate blood ethanol levels. Since it takes a relatively high blood ethanol level to be toxic to people, vapor exposure is unlikely to harm health in any way. ? Ethanol undergoes rapid biodegradation and will not persist in the environment -- either in soil or water. Virtually any environment is capable of biodegrading ethanol, whether soil, surface water, or groundwater. Natural bacterial populations easily and quickly break down ethanol. In fact, the half-life of ethanol in surface water ranges from only 6.5 to 26 hours. ? Ethanol and its byproducts do not pose an air pollution threat. Burning ethanol as the oxygen additive in gasoline does increase the level of acetaldehyde in air, but that increase is small compared to the risks posed by the other gasoline components, and is offset by reductions in formaldehyde. Burning ethanol also produces peroxyacetyl nitrate (PAN) but at levels lower than past PAN exposures during MTBE use. Using ethanol will not increase the risk of adverse health effects due to exposure to ethanol, acetaldehyde, or PAN. "The ethanol industry stands ready to help end the MTBE water contamination crisis," said Vaughn. "We can easily ramp up ethanol production to replace MTBE. We can do it cost-effectively. And this new report should end any unwarranted concerns about ethanol's safety." For more information or to receive a copy of the full report, visit the Renewable Fuels Association Website at: or call 202-289-3835.

Image courtesy Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ).
All images courtesy of Ecosorb.