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Where Did the MTBE Come From?

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This morning we received an email from 'Mandy' asking, " We had our water tested recently and the results said we have MTBE in our water.  We have well water and do not know where it came from.  Where DID it come from?"

Thank you, Mandy, for that very important question.  For those unfamiliar with MTBE, the acronmy stands for methyl tertiary-butyl ether, colorless but flammable and volatile liquid that dissolves relatively easy into water.  For a good number of years the fuel industry added MTBE to gasoline because it helped to reduce emissions from automobile tailpipes.

As for how it winds up in surface water and drinking or well water, that's easy:  Leakage and spillage.  Each time a person or automated process spilled a drop (or sometimes more) of gasoline while filling their car, motorcycle, lawnmower, etc., that spilled liquid eventually got washed away into the environment.  Multiply each one of those events by the number of times very common fuel filling events took place over the years and that adds up to a LOT of fuel spills and in turn a LOT of opportunities for MTBE to enter the environment.

Even the most careful fuel transfer processes may still result in accidental or incidental spillage.

Then you must also consider the number of underground and above ground fuel storage tanks and fuel pipelines that developed slow leaks or failed outright as they aged and the number of opportunities for MTBE to enter the environment goes up even more.

Testing for MTBE

No simple, at-home water test kit for MTBE exists but homeowners can use the mail-in water testing services of companies like  National Testing Laboratories to determine if MTBE and/or other potential drinking water contaminants has or have infiltrated their water supply.


National Testing Labs 100+ Parameter Test Kit
Well Check Deluxe
City-Check Standard
City-Check Standard
City-Check Deluxe
City-Check Deluxe


If you're looking for a simple way to drastically reduce the amount of MTBE in your water supply, units such as the  Propur PMC-4000 Under Counter Water Filter work well and usually do not take a lot of expertise to install.