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The MTBE air concentrations in the cabin of automobiles while fueling


Methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) is the most commonly used oxygenated compound added to gasoline to reduce ambient carbon monoxide levels. Complaints about perceived MTBE exposures and adverse health symptoms have been registered in several states, including New Jersey (NJ). Fueling automobiles is the activity thought to cause the highest environmental MTBE exposures. The current study was conducted to determine the MTBE concentrations inside automobile cabins during fueling, which represents the peak exposure that can occur at full service gasoline service stations, such as those that exist in NJ. Air samples were collected at service stations located on the NJ and PA turnpikes from March 1996 to July 1997 during which the MTBE content in gasoline varied. A bimodal distribution of MTBE concentrations was found in the cabin of the cars while fueling. The median MTBE, benzene and toluene in cabin concentrations were 100, 5.5 and 18 ppb, respectively, with the upper concentrations of the distribution exceeding 1 ppm for MTBE and 0.1 ppm for benzene and toluene. The highest in cabin concentrations occurred in a car that had a malfunctioning vapor recovery system and in a series of cars sampled on an unusually warm, calm winter day when the fuel volatility was high, the evaporation maximal and the dispersion by wind minimal. The in-cabin concentrations were typically higher when the car window was opened during the entire fueling process. Thus, exposure to MTBE during fueling can be reduced by properly maintaining the integrity of the fuel system and keeping the windows closed during fueling.

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VAYGHANI, S., WEISEL, C. The MTBE air concentrations in the cabin of automobiles while fueling. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 9, 261–267 (1999).

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