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Occurrence and Implications of Methyl tert-Butyl Ether and Gasoline Hydrocarbons in Ground Water and Source Water in the United States and in Drinking Water in 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, 1993-2002

By Michael J. Moran, John S. Zogorski, and Paul J. Squillace

Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4200

The report is available in pdf.


The occurrence and implications of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) and gasoline hydrocarbons were examined in three surveys of water quality conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey—one national-scale survey of ground water, one national-scale survey of source water from ground water, and one regional-scale survey of drinking water from ground water. The overall detection frequency of MTBE in all three surveys was similar to the detection frequencies of some other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that have much longer production and use histories in the United States. The detection frequency of MTBE was higher in drinking water and lower in source water and ground water. However, when the data for ground water and source water were limited to the same geographic extent as drinking-water data, the detection frequencies of MTBE were comparable to the detection frequency of MTBE in drinking water. In all three surveys, the detection frequency of any gasoline hydrocarbon was less than the detection frequency of MTBE. No concentration of MTBE in source water exceeded the lower limit of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Drinking-Water Advisory of 20 g/L (micrograms per liter). One concentration of MTBE in ground water exceeded 20 g/L, and 0.9 percent of drinking-water samples exceeded 20 g/L.

The overall detection frequency of MTBE relative to other widely used VOCs indicates that MTBE is an important concern with respect to ground-water management. The probability of detecting MTBE was strongly associated with population density, use of MTBE in gasoline, and recharge, and weakly associated with density of leaking underground storage tanks, soil permeability, and aquifer consolidation. Only concentrations of MTBE above 0.5 g/L were associated with dissolved oxygen. Ground water underlying areas with high population density, ground water underlying areas where MTBE is used as a gasoline oxygenate, and ground water underlying areas with high recharge has a greater probability of MTBE contamination. Ground water from public-supply wells and shallow ground water underlying urban land-use areas has a greater probability of MTBE contamination compared to ground water from domestic wells and ground water underlying rural land-use areas.




Purpose and Scope

Data and Methods

Assessment Level Computations

Statistical Methods

Occurrence of MTBE and Gasoline Hydrocarbons


NAWQA Studies


Gasoline Hydrocarbons


Other Ethers

Factors Affecting Occurence

Sources of MTBE

Use of MTBE in Gasoline as a Surrogate for Environmental Input

MTBE and Dissolved Oxygen in Ground Water

Other Associations with MTBE in Ground Water

Implications Involving MTBE and Gasoline Hydrocarbons

MTBE in Drinking Water

MTBE Occurrence by Land Use and Well Type

MTBE Concentrations and Human Health

Gasoline Hydrocarbon Occurrence

Associations with MTBE Occurrence



Suggested Citation:

Moran, M.J., Zogorski, J.S., and Squillace, P.J., 2004, Occurrence and implications of methyl tert-butyl ether and gasoline hydrocarbons in ground water and source water in the United States and in drinking water in 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, 1993-2002: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4200, 26 p.


This report is available online in Portable Document Format (PDF). If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader, it is available for free download from Adobe Systems Incorporated.

Download the Report (PDF, 1.5MB).

Document Accessibility: Adobe Systems Incorporated has information about PDFs and the visually impaired. This information provides tools to help make PDF files accessible. These tools convert Adobe PDF documents into HTML or ASCII text, which then can be read by a number of common screen-reading programs that synthesize text as audible speech. In addition, an accessible version of Acrobat Reader 5.0 for Windows (English only), which contains support for screen readers, is available. These tools and the accessible reader may be obtained free from Adobe at Adobe Access.

Send questions or comments about this report to the author, M.J. Moran (605) 355-4560 ext. 244.

For more information about USGS activities in South Dakota, visit the USGS South Dakota District home page.

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Last modified: Wednesday, December 07 2016, 01:21:50 PM
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