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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances

Research Projects -- Oxygenated Fuel -- Laurel Bay, South Carolina, Site

MTBE Fate in Trees

The fuel oxygenate MTBE and the conventional gasoline compounds benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and the isomers of xylene and trimethylbenzene were detected in cores of live oaks growing above the plume at the Laurel Bay site, and not detected in core material of oaks located outside of the gasoline plume. This detection of gasoline compounds in trees at a contaminated field site is important, particularly for the more soluble and less biodegradable MTBE, because it provides unequivocal field evidence that trees can act as sinks to remove such contaminants from ground-water systems. Moreover, if the uptaken MTBE is volatilized from leaf surfaces, the half-life of MTBE in the atmosphere is orders of magnitude less than the range of half-lives of MTBE under aerobic or anaerobic conditions in a contaminated aquifer.

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