MTBE: US’s toxic export

The US exports about 40,000 barrels a day of MTBE, a probably carcinogenic chemical used to replace lead in gasoline. Almost all the exports go to Mexico and Venezuela. MTBE was banned in the US because it’s soluble in groundwater. That means that when an underground storage tank springs a leak, it isn’t just a local problem, like gasoline. It spreads quickly and pollutes drinking-water aquifers.

The good news is that Mexico and Venezuela don’t have any important biodiversity, so a bit of carcinogen in the groundwater won’t hurt anyone. Oh wait, scratch that.

US MTBE exports by destination in 1000s of barrels per day.

US MTBE exports by destination in 1000s of barrels per day.

Data source

(Blerg inspired by this, about the ongoing exports of lead from the UK.)


6 thoughts on “MTBE: US’s toxic export

  1. Kepler

    I forgot most of my pre-Chavista high school chemistry…so got into reading Wikipedia and I see as alternatives ethanol and tert-Amyl methyl ether.
    Ethanol sounds like “Amazon-for-your-car” (where Amazon refers to the one we have South of the Orinoco). On TAME I read this:

    “When exposed to lab rats at 4000 ppm only 25% survived, the rest had died of central nervous system depression”

    What are other Spanish American countries using instead of lead? Do you know?

  2. Dr. Faustus

    Just for your info, not only are Venezuela’s refineries in “perfect” condition, according to Ramirez, but that MTBE stuff is making their gasoline ‘green.’
    Green. Ah, whatever that means.

    ““The old PDVSA used to send out gasoline with lead, because it was more economical,” RNV quoted Ramirez as saying. “We changed that policy and are bringing in additives for green gasoline and increasing our capacity.”

    The U.S. exported 83,000 barrels a day of oil products to Venezuela in October last year, including 39,000 barrels a day of finished motor gasoline and 15,000 barrels a day of the additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.”

    1. sapitosetty Post author

      I can’t tell if you’re serious. In case you are: this is an oil company you are talking about. Pollution is almost 100% of their business model.

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