Do You Have MTBE in Your Well Water?

Do You Have MTBE in Your Well Water?


MTBE or Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether is an additive that is often found in gasoline. It is added to decrease the ozone and carbon monoxide in vehicle emissions. Unfortunately, MTBE is highly water soluble, making it a prevalent contaminant in water systems around the U.S. So, do you need to be concerned about MTBE in your well water?

The MTBE Basics:Do You Have MTBE in Your Well Water?

MTBE is classified as a VOC or volatile organic compound. It is a member of the fuel oxygenates group of chemicals, and since 1979, it has been used as an octane booster in place of lead. It can enter the environment and water systems in a number of ways including leaking gasoline tanks or boats and auto emissions. MTBE can be leaked into surface water, but it can also percolate through the soil to reach underground aquifers.

Safe Levels of MTBE:

MTBE contamination can often be detected by scent alone. It has a distinct odor that resembles turpentine. This odor can be detectable even at concentrations of between 15 and 45 parts per billion. Although MTBE has been around since the 1980s, it has not been confirmed if it presents a hazard to health. Current testing data is derived from animal studies. As a result of this during the Safe Drinking Water Act regulations in 1996, MTBE was placed on the Contaminant Candidate List, to prompt additional research.

What is known is that inhalation of a low concentration can cause irritation to the throat and nose. If small amounts are ingested through drinking water, it is likely to cause irritation to the gastrointestinal tract and diarrhea. Higher concentration levels are seldom documented in drinking water, but they could cause more serious health effects.

Fortunately, the human body has the capacity to readily break down MTBE and excrete it in urine, breath, and blood. Tests to confirm exposure are currently unavailable, and since the symptoms are relatively common, it makes it difficult to confirm a diagnosis or rule out another water contaminant.

Testing for MTBE:

If your well water has developed a distinct turpentine odor, it is important to test your supply to confirm if your water is contaminated. The EPA recommends that private well owners should include MTBE in their annual testing. This provides an opportunity to treat the water before a risk of consumption.

If you suspect your water has been contaminated or testing has confirmed the presence of MTBE, you will need to discuss the situation with a local well water professional. Municipal facilities are treated with activated carbon filtration and other methods to ensure that any traces of MTBE is removed from the supplies. For homes supplied from a private well, you may wish to consider a whole house system or a point of use device that is effective at removing MTBE.

If you have concerns about MTBE in your water supply, you should speak to your water treatment professional. There is a vast selection of filtration systems on the market that can address MTBE. By choosing a water treatment professional who is fully WQA certified, you can have confidence that any systems recommended will be effective at removing MTBE and exceed industry standards.

Contact NicMar Water for your water needs.

About The Author: Mark Williams (NicMar Water President Mark Williams holds degrees in Applied Science and Industrial Thermodynamics, along with Agricultural Mechanization and Systems Engineering from Ohio State University. He also holds the highest possible industry ranking, being WQA (Water Quality Association) LEVEL 6 Certified.)

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