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MTBE: Effects on soil and groundwater resources
  1. R L Maynard

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    By J Jacobs, J Guertin, C Herron, eds. (Pp 245; £53.99.) 2001. Boca Raton, FL: Lewis (CRC Press). ISBN 1 56670 553 3.

    This short book provides a great deal of information on that interesting petrol additive and oxygenate methy-ter-butyl ether (MBTE). In fact, more than half the book comprises annexes and indexes of data. The text itself is divided into short chapters that provide an excellent historical introduction, accounts of the chemistry and toxicology of MBTE, and its fate in soil and water. The toxicological section is too brief for this book to be regarded as a key source on this aspect of MTBE—although it points the way to more detailed accounts and the primary literature. So why buy it? The answer is that this book provides an excellent summary of a late 20th century problem in toxicology. MTBE was introduced to improve petrol combustion and reduce emissions of carbon monoxide: it was an alternative to lead. Its introduction in Alaska prompted an outbreak of symptoms: nausea, airway irritation, effects on the CNS. These appeared hardly anywhere else. Groundwater was rapidly contaminated, carcinogenicity was suspected (no evidence in humans) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency recommended that use of the compound should be discontinued in March 2000. Between 1979 and 2000 MTBE attracted enormous attention in the United States: tempers ran high. The influence of science, industrial opinion, and public opinion varied and each had an effect on policy development. For anyone running an MSc course in environmental science/medicine MTBE is a key case study. This book is the best quick way into the subject. It is also an excellent read for those who are speculating on problems likely to occur during the next 20 years!