Fuel ethers enable cleaner-burning petrol, resulting in improved air quality, smoother running engines and greater fuel efficiency.
Scientific studies carried out by both independent bodies and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have clearly stated that fuel ethers do not have any potential carcinogenic or endocrine disrupting properties.
These unique substances can contribute to safely improving the quality of the air we breathe and the performance of our vehicles
The safety of fuel ethers has been widely investigated by both regulatory authorities and the industry, with their findings strengthening the position that they are a safe petrol blending component. These unique substances can contribute to safely improving the quality of the air we breathe and the performance of our vehicles.
Fuel ethers are highly studied substances
The safety of all fuel ethers has been widely investigated over the more than 40 years they have been in use. In particular, MTBE, the most common fuel ether, has been extensively studied by industry organisations and regulatory authorities, as well as established health organisations across the world.
The depth and breadth of this research places MTBE within the top two per cent of all tested substances in the world. The consensus from this extensive research is that MTBE is safe when handled properly and responsibly.
Fuel ethers have no negative impact on public health
One area that has been widely researched is the potential carcinogenicity of MTBE. Notable examples include the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the WHO. Based on detailed analysis of existing studies, the IARC established that claims of a possible cancer risk to humans from exposure to MTBE rest upon insufficient evidence.
As such, they have rated MTBE as a category 3 substance: “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans”. This view has been repeatedly supported by the European Union, the US National Toxicology Program and the State of California,
Based on detailed analysis of existing studies, the IARC established that claims of a possible cancer risk to humans from exposure to MTBE rest upon insufficient evidence
In addition, the 2014 ‘weight of evidence’ analysis of existing literature refuted the concerns about the possible endocrine disrupting properties of MTBE. This analysis was carried out by independent experts and published in a peer reviewed science journal. It firmly concluded that there is no evidence that MTBE is an endocrine disruptor.
When considering the wider health impacts of MTBE, the consensus is best described by the World Health Organisation’s conclusion that it is “unlikely that MTBE alone induces adverse acute health effects in the general population under common exposure conditions”.
Similar scrutiny has been applied to other fuel ethers, which are closely related substances. As a result, their impacts on health and the environment are broadly comparable, though some minor variations exist. To clearly establish their safety, individual assessments have been carried out for all fuel ether variations, with no significant grounds for concern discovered.
The fuel ethers industry meets the highest standards
Fuel ethers, like many specialist substances, require proper handling. The fuel ethers industry continuously promotes the highest standards of safety in the production, transportation, storage and use of fuel ethers, and as a result has seen more than four decades of safe use.
The fuel ethers industry has incorporated the lessons from incidents triggered by substandard handling of fuel ethers into their continuously revised guidelines for the safe handling of these substances. One notable example of this is the Rhine river in Germany, where small, non-harmful quantities of MTBE contaminated the water due to inadequate shipping standards.
The fuel ethers industry responded with shipping guidelines, which improved the practices and equipment used to ship MTBE. As a result, MTBE has been removed from the formal agenda of the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine, signifying the body’s satisfaction with industry efforts.
The fuel ethers industry continuously promotes the highest standards of safety in the production, transportation, storage and use of fuel ethers
Leaks in underground storage tanks can be detected very easily and early, due to the odour of MTBE, thus limiting spills into groundwater. This is detectable long before the substance reaches harmful concentrations, allowing prompt and efficient action for remediation.
In fact, the substance can be smelled and tasted in concentrations 20,000-100,000 times lower than the lowest concentration that has been linked to health effects in animals. Overall, this responsiveness is widely credited as being key to the constantly improving safety record of fuel ethers.
Ultimately, while this issue is not due to the properties of MTBE specifically, the industry is continuing to work with the value chain and governments to promote the highest possible standards for underground storage tanks. Furthermore, as part of their comprehensive approach to product safety, the fuel ethers industry has developed guidelines, providing recommendations to prevent leakage and suggesting actions to take in case of leakage. These guidelines ensure that early detection of incidents is met with early action, minimising impacts.
The upgrading of underground storage standards, sharing of best practices and appropriate regulation have greatly reduced the risk of incidents, enabling the increasing safe use of fuel ethers with no harm to the environment or public health.
Fuel ethers are well regulated
Fuel ethers, like any chemical, are subject to regulations that complement the work of the industry to ensure the safe application of substances. While specific regulations vary from region to region, they are widely based on the principle of understanding and minimising the risks associated with chemicals.
The European Union’s flagship Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation sets a global standard for safe use. REACH ensures that each chemical has been fully assessed before being put on the European market, and that appropriate steps are taken to minimise potential risks.
Fuel ethers can be very beneficial in terms of the environment and public health
While the REACH Regulation is legally applicable only in the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA), it is a global standard against which many countries judge the safety of chemicals.
Most fuel ethers have already been registered under REACH, undergoing in-depth assessment and taking into account risk management procedures. The result is that fuel ethers are certified safe to use across the EU and are fully compliant with existing legislation. The only exception, tert-amyl ethyl ether (TAEE), is a new substance and as such is currently moving through the risk assessment process.
Fuel ethers replace harmful additives
Fuel ethers can be very beneficial in terms of the environment and public health. MTBE was originally developed to replace lead in gasoline, which caused numerous health issues due to its toxicity and harmful emissions. Its replacement with MTBE immediately brought about significant improvements in public health.
Even now, MTBE reduces the need for other harmful substances, such as olefins and aromatics. These substances, while components of gasoline, are often toxic themselves and are precursors to ozone and particulate matter.
So fuel ethers improve public health in two important ways: first by reducing the concentration of more toxic components of gasoline, and second by reducing harmful primary and secondary emissions and by-products from these components.