EPA report says MTBE can be absorbed through skin

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study has concluded that the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) can be absorbed through the skin.


Feb. 19, 2004 -- A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study has concluded that the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) can be absorbed through the skin.

The information fueled the arguments of drinking water community members who have said the energy bill currently stalled in the U.S. Senate should not contain a liability waiver for producers of MTBE.

The six-month study was conducted by EPA's Office of Research and Development in North Carolina, according to reports from Knight-Ridder and the Associated Press. The study did not say what health risks, if any, resulted from the chemical's absorption into skin.

The MTBE issue is believed to be the sticking point that prevented Senate approval of the bill before the end of 2003, and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici has said the current version omits MTBE liability waivers.

The action was immediately hailed by drinking water organizations such as the American Water Works Association (AWWA), which said that if the MTBE safe harbor provision became law, the $29 billion cleanup tab would be left to local communities, water utilities and water consumers.

But the debate is far from over. The energy bill's change will put the Senate at odds with the House, which had originated the MTBE provision in the first place. It's likely that new compromises will have to be made before the legislation is passed, which could lead to the addition of MTBE back into the bill in some form.

Notes:
IRIS CAS number for MTBE: 1634-04-4
Docket ID No. ORD 2003-0016 for searching at EPA Dockets: http://www.epa.gov/edocket/


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