Dangerous and cancer-causing properties of products and chemicals in the oil-refining and petrochemical industry--Part XXII: Health hazards from exposure to gasoline containing methyl tertiary butyl ether: study of New Jersey residents

Toxicol Ind Health. Sep-Oct 1996;12(5):613-27. doi: 10.1177/074823379601200502.


Methyl tertiary butyl ether has caused the following cancers in rats and mice: kidney, testicular, liver, lymphomas, and leukemias. Thus, in the absence of adequate data on humans, it is biologically plausible and prudent to regard methyl tertiary butyl ether-for which there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals-as a probable human carcinogen. This means that some humans are at extreme risk of contracting cancers resulting from their exposure to oxygenated gasoline containing methyl tertiary butyl ether. Immediately after the introduction of methyl tertiary butyl ether into gasoline, many consumers of this product in New Jersey, New York, Alaska, Maine, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arizona, Montana, Massachusetts, California, and other areas, experienced a variety of neurotoxic, allergic, and respiratory illnesses. These illnesses were similar to those suffered by refinery workers from the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union who mixed methyl tertiary butyl ether with gasoline. Additionally, these illnesses occurred following exposure to extremely low levels of methyl tertiary butyl ether in gasoline, particularly when compared to the adverse health effects that occurred only after exposure to very high levels of conventional gasoline. Thus, gasoline containing methyl tertiary butyl ether exhibited substantially more toxicity in humans than gasoline without this additive. A number of oil industry-sponsored or influenced reports alleged that these illnesses were either unrelated to exposure to reformulated gasoline or were characteristic of some yet-to-be-identified communicable disease. These studies further alleged that the widespread concern was not about illness, but was merely a reaction to the odor and the five cent increase in the price of gasoline. To clarify the significance of this issue, it is important to note that consumers have been using gasoline for many decades, with complaints only occurring following exposure to high levels at 100s ppm or higher. After the introduction of methyl tertiary butyl ether gasoline there were thousands of human health complaints. The sudden increase in widespread illnesses from which many thousands of individuals throughout the United States began to suffer immediately following the introduction of methyl tertiary butyl ether into gasoline provides strong and unquestionable evidence that gasoline containing methyl tertiary butyl ether is associated with human illnesses. When considering the severity of the illnesses in humans, it is prudent that this highly dangerous chemical be promptly removed from gasoline and comprehensive studies be conducted to assess the long-term effects that human may experience in the future from past and current exposure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Animals
  • Benzene Derivatives / adverse effects*
  • Carcinogens / administration & dosage
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Gasoline / adverse effects*
  • Gasoline / analysis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methyl Ethers / administration & dosage
  • Methyl Ethers / adverse effects*
  • Methyl Ethers / toxicity
  • Mice
  • New Jersey
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Petroleum / metabolism
  • Rats
  • United States
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency


  • Air Pollutants
  • Benzene Derivatives
  • Carcinogens
  • Gasoline
  • Methyl Ethers
  • Petroleum
  • methyl tert-butyl ether