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Two-year drinking water carcinogenicity study of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) in Wistar rats


Correspondence to: Edilberto Bermudez, The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, 6 Davis Drive, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709–2137, USA. E-mail:


Methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) has been used as a gasoline additive to reduce tailpipe emissions and its use has been discontinued. There remains a concern that drinking water sources have been contaminated with MTBE. A two-year drinking water carcinogenicity study of MTBE was conducted in Wistar rats (males, 0, 0.5, 3, 7.5 mg ml−1; and females, 0, 0.5, 3, and 15 mg ml−1). Body weights were unaffected and water consumption was reduced in MTBE-exposed males and females. Wet weights of male kidneys were increased at the end of two years of exposure to 7.5 mg ml−1 MTBE. Chronic progressive nephropathy was observed in males and females, was more severe in males, and was exacerbated in the high MTBE exposure groups. Brain was the only tissue with a statistically significant finding of neoplasms. One astrocytoma (1/50) was found in a female rat (15 mg ml−1). The incidence of brain astrocytomas in male rats was 1/50, 1/50, 1/50 and 4/50 for the 0, 0.5, 3 and 7.5 mg ml−1 exposure groups, respectively. This was a marginally significant statistical trend, but not statistically significant when pairwise comparisons were made or when multiple comparisons were taken into account. The incidence of astrocytoma fell within historical control ranges for Wistar rats, and the brain has not been identified as a target organ following chronic administration of MTBE, ethyl tert-butyl ether, or tertiary butyl alcohol (in drinking water) to mice and rats. We conclude that the astrocytomas observed in this study are not associated with exposure to MTBE. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.