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Review
, 37 (4), 287-312

Ethyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether: A Toxicological Review

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Review

Ethyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether: A Toxicological Review

Douglas McGregor. Crit Rev Toxicol.

Abstract

A number of oxygenated compounds (oxygenates) are available for use in gasoline to reduce vehicle exhaust emissions, reduce the aromatic compound content, and avoid the use of organo-lead compounds, while maintaining high octane numbers. Ethyl tertiary-butyl ether (ETBE) is one such compound. The current use of ETBE in gasoline or petrol is modest but increasing, with consequently similar trends in the potential for human exposure. Inhalation is the most likely mode of exposure, with about 30% of inhaled ETBE being retained by the lungs and distributed around the body. Following cessation of exposure, the blood concentration of ETBE falls rapidly, largely as a result of its metabolism to tertiary-butyl alcohol (TBA) and acetaldehyde. TBA may be further metabolized, first to 2-methyl-1,2-propanediol and then to 2-hydroxyisobutyrate, the two dominant metabolites found in urine of volunteers and rats. The rapid oxidation of acetaldehyde suggests that its blood concentration is unlikely to rise above normal as a result of human exposure to sources of ETBE. Single-dose toxicity tests show that ETBE has low toxicity and is essentially nonirritant to eyes and skin; it did not cause sensitization in a maximization test in guinea pigs. Neurological effects have been observed only at very high exposure concentrations. There is evidence for an effect of ETBE on the kidney of rats. Increases in kidney weight were seen in both sexes, but protein droplet accumulation (with alpha(2u)-globulin involvement) and sustained increases in cell proliferation occurred only in males. In liver, centrilobular necrosis was induced in mice, but not rats, after exposure by inhalation, although this lesion was reported in some rats exposed to very high oral doses of ETBE. The proportion of liver cells engaged in S-phase DNA synthesis was increased in mice of both sexes exposed by inhalation. ETBE has no specific effects on reproduction, development, or genetic material. Carcinogenicity studies have been conducted with ETBE, TBA, and ethanol (included in this review as an endogenous precursor of acetaldehyde in the absence of TBA). A single experiment with ETBE in rats and several experiments with ethanol in rats and mice were not considered adequate for an evaluation of ETBE carcinogenicity. In male rats only, TBA induced alpha(2u)-globulin nephropathy-related renal tubule adenomas. These are generally considered to have no human relevance. In addition, increases in thyroid follicular cell adenoma incidence were associated with TBA treatment in female mice. This result lacks independent confirmation and is not supported by experiments in which similar or higher internal doses of TBA were delivered.

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