Review of quantitative surveys of the length and stability of MTBE, TBA, and benzene plumes in groundwater at UST sites

Ground Water. 2015 Mar-Apr;53(2):195-206. doi: 10.1111/gwat.12233. Epub 2014 Jul 12.


Quantitative information regarding the length and stability condition of groundwater plumes of benzene, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), and tert-butyl alcohol (TBA) has been compiled from thousands of underground storage tank (UST) sites in the United States where gasoline fuel releases have occurred. This paper presents a review and summary of 13 published scientific surveys, of which 10 address benzene and/or MTBE plumes only, and 3 address benzene, MTBE, and TBA plumes. These data show the observed lengths of benzene and MTBE plumes to be relatively consistent among various regions and hydrogeologic settings, with median lengths at a delineation limit of 10 µg/L falling into relatively narrow ranges from 101 to 185 feet for benzene and 110 to 178 feet for MTBE. The observed statistical distributions of MTBE and benzene plumes show the two plume types to be of comparable lengths, with 90th percentile MTBE plume lengths moderately exceeding benzene plume lengths by 16% at a 10-µg/L delineation limit (400 feet vs. 345 feet) and 25% at a 5-µg/L delineation limit (530 feet vs. 425 feet). Stability analyses for benzene and MTBE plumes found 94 and 93% of these plumes, respectively, to be in a nonexpanding condition, and over 91% of individual monitoring wells to exhibit nonincreasing concentration trends. Three published studies addressing TBA found TBA plumes to be of comparable length to MTBE and benzene plumes, with 86% of wells in one study showing nonincreasing concentration trends.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Benzene / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Groundwater / analysis*
  • Methyl Ethers / analysis*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / analysis
  • tert-Butyl Alcohol / analysis*


  • Methyl Ethers
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • methyl tert-butyl ether
  • Benzene
  • tert-Butyl Alcohol