Although the following symptoms are associated with MTBE, gasoline contains other ingredients that may cause similar health effects.
Immediately or shortly after exposure to MTBE (at levels similar to when you fill your car with gasoline) people may experience irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, and headache or dizziness. Some of these symptoms may result from the bad odor of the chemical. At even higher levels (in industrial settings), people can feel drunk, have trouble breathing and lose coordination.
In general, a chemical will affect the same organ systems in all people who are exposed. However, the seriousness of the effects may vary from person to person. A person's reaction depends on several things, including individual health, heredity, previous exposure to chemicals including medicines, and personal habits such as smoking or drinking.
It’s also important to consider the length of exposure to the chemical, the amount of chemical exposure, and whether the chemical was inhaled, touched, or eaten.
Currently, the effects on humans of long-term exposure to low levels of MTBE are unknown. The following are results of studies using laboratory animals:
When exposed to high levels of MTBE over a long period of time, some laboratory animals developed kidney tumors, testicular tumors, lymphoma and leukemia.
Because it leaves the body quickly, MTBE and its breakdown product, "butyl alcohol," can only be measured in exhaled breath, urine, and blood for 1-2 days after exposure. Doctors can use function tests of the nervous system, kidneys, or liver to track the long-term health of people regularly exposed to MTBE at work.
Seek medical advice if you have any symptoms that you think may be related to chemical exposure.