Push for lead phase-out gathers speed

Announcements by two major oil companies of a phase-out of leaded gasoline and two major regional conferences on lead pollution prevention offer hope that Asian cities with dangerously high airborne lead levels could soon receive some respite, reports Asia Environmental Review (ASER).

In a speech given in London last month, BP Amoco chief executive Sir John Browne said BP Amoco aimed to be “a completely unleaded company world-wide within three years”. Brown also committed BP Amoco to a USD100 million upgrade of plant at facilities around the world to make low sulphur (0.05 ppm) diesel available within forty of the world’s major – and most polluted – cities.
The Indian Oil Corporation’s director of Delhi operations Mr S N Jha also announced last month that IndianOil will phase out leaded gasoline by 31 March, 2000. IndianOil is India’s only ‘Fortune Global 500’ company, and its six refineries (all ISO-14001 certified) give it about 55% of the country’s fuel market. Mr Jha’s announcement was made at a conference on lead poisoning in Bangelore (see following story).

Government action

A number of Governments throughout the region are also proceeding with regulatory action to speed up the phase-out of lead.
The sale of leaded fuel will be banned in Hong Kong from April 1, and persons selling leaded fuel will be liable to a fine of up to HKD 50,000. (Unleaded fuel was introduced into Hong Kong in 1991 and now accounts for about 94% of all petrol sold.)
Meanwhile in the Philippines, leaded fuel will be completely phased out eighteen months after the approval of the proposed Clean Air Act currently before the House of Representatives.

However, more needs to be done. According to Curtis Moore of the Global Alliance for Clean Air, on a global basis about one in every five gallons of gasoline sold is leaded, and leaded fuel is still widely used in countries including Indonesia, Vietnam, significant parts of China and Taiwan. Moore told ASER that until leaded fuel is phased out, cities cannot begin to seriously tackle other air pollution problems. “Nothing can be done unless leaded gasoline is first eliminated. It is the lock in the door.” Moore noted that the use of leaded fuel makes it “nearly impossible” to fit fuel efficiency equipment, and noted that the fuel “kills” the catalytic converters that remove NOx, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide.

Moore told ASER that the Global Alliance for Clean Air is working to establish a regional Asia Pacific Clean Air Alliance member group. The Alliance is working towards a phase-out of leaded fuel by 2003 – the 80th anniversary of the first commercial sale of the lead additive in fuel known as TEL. (Interestingly, Moore says the developer of the lead additive in fuel has another claim to fame – he also invented CFCs, now being phased out because of their role in ozone depletion).

Thailand takes the lead

Meanwhile, governments eager to rid their cities of leaded petrol have a good role model in Thailand, according to the World Bank. Between 1991 and 1995, the Thai Government introduced measures that resulted in the elimination of leaded petrol and the reduction of lead levels in the air by a factor of ten. By 1995, leaded petrol was effectively eliminated in Thailand, at a net cost of USD0.2 per litre.

Because of its successful lead phase-out program, Bangkok was chosen as the location for a two-day workshop, also held last month, to look at the benefits of eliminating lead from petrol, and at other strategies to reduce air pollution from mobile and stationary sources. Countries represented at the workshop included China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Germany and the United States, as well as representatives of the World Bank and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Presentations included a detailed examination of Thailand’s phase-out program and reports on the status of lead elimination and air pollution programs in the region. Another larger conference on leaded petrol will be held in the region later this year.

Contact: Curtis A. Moore, Executive Director, Global Alliance for Clean Air, Tel: 202-785-3355 or 703-536-2414; Fax: 202-452-1805 or 703-536-0178; Email: [email protected].

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