Emerging Technologies

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Research Report 89
Thomas Burbacher
October 1999

In an effort to improve air quality and decrease dependence on petroleum, alternative fuels such as methanol have been considered to substitute for gasoline or diesel fuel. Methanol is also a candidate to provide the hydrogen for fuel cells. Before people are exposed to increased concentrations of methanol, the potential health effects of such exposures require study. Dr. Burbacher and colleagues of the University of Washington studied the effects of long-term exposure to methanol vapors on metabolism and reproduction in adult female monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) and developmental effects in their offspring, who were exposed prenatally to methanol. 

Research Report 77
Michele A Medinsky
David C Dorman
James A Bond
Owen R Moss
Derek B Janszen
Jeffrey I Everitt
June 1997

Dr. Medinsky and colleagues of the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology sought to determine how formate, a metabolite produced when methanol is broken down by the body, is formed and removed in monkeys after they have been exposed to methanol vapors. The investigators exposed female cynomolgus monkeys to environmentally relevant concentrations (10, 45, or 200 parts per million) of methanol vapors and to one high dose (900 ppm) for two hours.

Research Report 74
Gary M Pollack
Kim LR Brouwer
June 1996

Drs. Pollack and Brouwer at the University of North Carolina determined the relationship between methanol exposure and its uptake into and elimination from the blood of nonpregnant and pregnant rodents. The investigators exposed rats and mice at several different stages of gestation to methanol intravenously or orally (doses ranged from 100 mg/kg of body weight to 2,500 mg/kg) or by inhalation (1,000 to 20,000 ppm for 8 hours). They measured blood, urine, and amniotic fluid concentrations of methanol and used the data to develop a model of methanol distribution in rodents.

Research Report 73
Bernard Weiss
Sander Stern
Sidney C Soderholm
Christopher Cox
Archana Sharma
Geoffrey B Inglis
Ray Preston
Marlene Balys
Kenneth R Reuhl
Robert Gelein
April 1996

Dr. Weiss and his colleagues at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry examined the effects of prenatal and early postnatal inhalation of methanol on selected measures of neurobehavior in rats. The investigators conducted a controlled series of experiments in which they exposed pregnant rats and their newborn offspring to 4,500 parts per million (ppm) methanol by inhalation, and then submitted them to tests of behavioral function.

Special Report
Health Effects Institute
April 1996

A Special Report of the Institute's Oxygenates Evaluation Committee. Oxygenated fuel (usually referred to as oxyfuel) was formulated to reduce carbon monoxide emissions and contains at least 2.7% oxygen by adding methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) or ethanol. Reformulated gasoline was formulated to help reduce ground-level ozone concentrations and contains at least 2% oxygen, has a reduced content of benzene and other aromatic compounds, and produces limited emissions of total air toxics. The introduction of fuels containing oxygenates elicited concerns from workers and the general public in some areas, including reports of unpleasant odors, headaches, or other symptoms attributed to the fuels, and questions about their effects on the cost of gasoline, the performance of engines, and fuel economy. This Special Report summarizes an intensive review of (1) the existing science of the health effects of oxygenates, (2) the risk evaluations done by the EPA in 1993 and 1994, and (3) in a qualitative way, the health effects of exposure to the new additives as they relate to the health effects of other pollutants whose levels in emissions change when fuels containing oxygenates are used.

Research Report 42
Mary R Cook
Fred J Bergman
Harvey D Cohen
Mary M Gerkovich
Charles Graham
Roger K Harris
Linda G Siemann
August 1991

In this pilot study, Dr. Mary Cook and colleagues at the Midwest Research Institute explored how exposure to methanol vapor might affect the human nervous system. Methanol could be used as an alternative fuel, but it may lead to increased levels of methanol and formaldehyde in the atmosphere. The investigators exposed 12 young male volunteers to either filtered air or methanol vapor and assessed their response using 20 commonly used tests of sensory, behavioral, and reasoning performance before, during, and after each exposure.

Special Report
Health Effects Institute
May 1987

Report of the Institute's Health Research Committee. This report summarizes what emissions-related health problems, if any, would emerge if methanol were to become more widely used as an automotive fuel. Methanol-fueled vehicles emit both formaldehyde and methanol vapors. in 1985, HEI started a research program to investigate the potential health effects of aldehydes, including formaldehyde. Before proceeding with research on methanol vapors, the HEI Health Research Committee decided to undertake additional analysis.

Special Report
Health Effects Institute
September 1985

Report of the Institute's Health Review Comittee, September 1985. Supplement, January 1988. This report contains a review of data on the health effects of unburnt gasoline vapors, and evaluates the need for a research program to address major unresolved issues, especially in regard to the carcinogenicity of gasoline vapors. The supplement summarizes additional data published between 1985 and 1988 in response to a proposed regulatory strategy to reduce hydrocarbon emissions from mobile sources.