2002 Progress Report: Beyond MTBE: Evaluating the Future Threats to Drinking Water Supplies from Chemicals in Our Gasoline

EPA Grant Number: R829023
Title: Beyond MTBE: Evaluating the Future Threats to Drinking Water Supplies from Chemicals in Our Gasoline
Investigators: Gschwend, Philip M.
Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: September 1, 2001 through August 31, 2004 (Extended to August 31, 2005)
Project Period Covered by this Report: September 1, 2001 through August 31, 2002
Project Amount: $239,524
RFA: Exploratory Research to Anticipate Future Environmental Issues (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Economics and Decision Sciences , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Water , Ecosystems


The objective of this research project is to develop a methodology suited to evaluating the potential for new (and old) fuel additives to contaminate drinking water.

Progress Summary:

Continuing modifications of fuels such as gasoline should include evaluations of the proposed constituents for their potential to damage environmental resources such as subsurface water supplies. Consequently, we developed a screening model to estimate well water concentrations and transport times for gasoline components migrating from underground fuel tank releases to typical at-risk community water supply wells. Representative fuel release volumes and hydrogeologic characteristics were used to parameterize the transport calculation. Subsurface degradation processes were neglected in the model to make risk-conservative assessments. The model was tailored to individual compounds based on their abundances in gasoline, gasoline-water partition coefficients (Kgw), and organic matter-water partition coefficients (Kom). Transport calculations were conducted for 20 polar and 4 nonpolar compounds found in gasoline, including methyl t-butyl ether (MTBE) and other ether oxygenates, ethanol, methanol, and some aromatic hydrocarbons. With no calibration, the screening model successfully captured the reported magnitude of MTBE contamination of at-risk community supply wells. Such screening indicates that other oxygenates would cause similar widespread problems unless they were biodegradable. Analysis of field parameter variability concluded that community supply well contamination estimates had order-of-magnitude reliability. This indicated that such pre-manufacturing analyses may reasonably prevent widespread environmental problems and/or inspire focused investigations into chemical properties (e.g., biodegradability) before industrial adoption of new fuel formulations.

Future Activities:

We are working to predict partitioning coefficients for organic solutes based on their structures partitioning between water and mixtures of substances likely found in fuels.

Journal Articles on this Report : 2 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other project views: All 4 publications 3 publications in selected types All 3 journal articles
Type Citation Project Document Sources
Journal Article Arey JS, Gschwend PM. A physical-chemical screening model for anticipating widespread contamination of community water supply wells by gasoline constituents. Journal of Contaminant Hydrology 2005;76(1-2):109-138. R829023 (2002)
R829023 (2003)
  • Abstract from PubMed
  • Full-text: ScienceDirect-Full Text HTML
  • Abstract: ScienceDirect-Abstract
  • Other: ScienceDirect-Full Text PDF
  • Journal Article Kawamoto K, Arey JS, Gschwend PM. Emission and fate assessment of methyl tertiary butyl ether in the Boston area airshed using a simple multimedia box model: comparison with urban air measurements. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 2003;53(12):1426-1435. R829023 (2002)
  • Abstract from PubMed
  • Full-text: Taylor & Francis-Full Text PDF
  • Abstract: Taylor & Francis-Abstract
  • Other: MIT-Full Text PDF
  • Supplemental Keywords:

    MTBE, BTEX, screening model, community supply well, gasoline additive, subsurface transport, partition coefficient, environmental fate and transport, hazardous chemicals, subsurface water contamination, analytical models,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Toxics, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Environmental Chemistry, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Chemistry, Contaminant Candidate List, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecological Effects - Human Health, Ecological Risk Assessment, Drinking Water, Engineering, Chemistry, & Physics, Environmental Engineering, alternative disinfection methods, fate and transport, Safe Drinking Water, gasoline, ecological exposure, human health effects, exposure and effects, exposure, MTBE, chemical contaminants, surface water, treatment plants, linear solvation energy relationship, treatment, water quality, drinking water contaminants, fuel additives, water treatment, contaminant removal, other - risk management

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 2003 Progress Report
  • 2004
  • Final