LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News Volume 12 Number 2, December 2011, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Editor: Anne Roberts

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Chronology of Leaded Gasoline / Leaded Petrol History –

Knowledge of the dangers of lead in petrol / gasoline;

Steps taken and not taken, to phase out leaded petrol;

Steps remaining to achieve global leaded petrol phase-out.

1990 - 2003

By Elizabeth O'Brien, Manager, Global Lead Advice & Support Service (GLASS) run by The LEAD Group Inc. Australia. Partner, UNEP Partnership for Cleaner Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) and Zac Gethin-Damon, LEAD Group Campaigner for the End of Leaded Petrol Globally by the End of 2011, edited by Anne Roberts for The LEAD Group Inc.

1990 - World Health Statistics Quarterly declares lead in petrol to be “The Mistake of the 20th Century.” (Shy, 1990) Consumption of lead in OECD countries for gasoline additives drops from 10% of 3,050,000 tonnes of lead used in 1970 to 2% of 3,365,000 tonnes in 1990 (IPCS 1995) (see pie charts below).

utilization_of_lead in OECD countries

1991 - the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) determines that phasing out leaded gasoline was the most important lead poisoning prevention action any national government could take. (OECD 1991)

1991 – US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) redefines childhood lead poisoning by declaring that a blood lead level below 10 µg/dL (micrograms per decilitre) does not constitute lead poisoning. (CDC 1991)

1992 – In the seminal book Human Lead Exposure, edited by Herbert Needleman, JS Lin-Fu states that some consider the addition of lead to gasoline is one of the greatest public health disasters of the 20th century. (Gilbert and Weiss 2006) Australian NGO The LEAD Group lobbies Australian Environment Minister Ros Kelly to speed up Australia’s phase-out (begun in 1985 and finally achieved in 2002)

1993 - Ethyl Corporation ends manufacture of lead anti-knock compounds with the closure of its Canadian plant; instead markets additives purchased from the Associated Octel Company Limited (later renamed “Innospec”), the world’s only remaining producer of tetraethyl lead (TEL). (Albermarle 2011)

1994 – Study shows that US blood-lead levels declined by 78 percent from 1978 to 1991 (Kitman 2000b). US researchers declare: “lead poisoning remains the single most significant preventable disease associated with an environmental and occupational toxin”; and “Although lead in gasoline represents only 2.2 percent of total global lead use, leaded gasoline is by far the single most significant source of lead exposure in urban areas”. UN Commission on Sustainable Development calls on all governments to eliminate lead from gasoline. (World Resources Staff 1998) 

1994 Feb 1 – Major emergency toxic leak occurs at Associated Octel (later renamed “Innospec”) TEL plant in Ellesmere Port, UK, resulting in: the company later pleading guilty to the charges that it failed to ensure the health and safety of workers and other persons; paying a fine of Ł290,000; and installing a new ethyl chloride plant. (Ryder 1996)

1994 Apr - “the UN Commission on Sustainable Development called upon governments to eliminate lead from gasoline worldwide. This action set in motion decisions and efforts in other international fora and institutions - including the Summit of the Americas, World Bank, Habitat II, OECD, and the UNECE - to encourage and assist nations to take action to phase out this principal source of lead pollution, which continues to harm the health of millions of people.” (Walsh 1999)

1995 Dec – US phases out leaded gasoline for road-use vehicles and US EPA issues press release stating: “The elimination of lead from gas is one of the great environmental achievements of all time," [EPA Administrator Carol M] Browner said. "Thousands of tons of lead have been removed from the air, and blood levels of lead in our children are down 70 percent. This means that millions of children will be spared the painful consequences of lead poisoning, such as permanent nerve damage, anemia or mental retardation." The actions taken today, although procedural, mark the end of a quarter-of-a-century of work to keep Americans safe from exposure to lead from gas.” (EPA US 1996)

1996 - World Bank calls for world phaseout of leaded gasoline (Kitman 2000b) and UK Friends of the Earth declares Octel Britain’s filthiest factory in 1996. “Octel are reported to have released a total 5,340 tonnes (around 14 tonnes a day) of highly poisonous chemicals. These include chloroethane, vinyl bromide, and about 66 tonnes of lead, into the atmosphere about a town of between 70-80,000 residents.” (Ryder 1999).

1996 - Lead in Australian Children: Report On The National Survey Of Lead In Children reports that: “In single-vehicle households the mean blood lead level [of children aged 1 to 4 years (inclusive)] is higher where the vehicle uses leaded petrol [6.62 µg/dL - 133% higher] than when it uses unleaded petrol… or [in households with two or more vehicles] than when all vehicles use unleaded petrol [4.97 µg/dL].” (Donovan et al 1996)

1996 Feb 20 - OECD member nations sign a Lead declaration placing lead petrol phase-out as the number one action for each OECD country. (OECD 1996)

1998 – The World Bank reports: “the exposure of adults to atmospheric lead has been connected to elevated blood pressure causing hypertension, heart attacks and premature death. No lower threshold of exposure exists under which the adverse effects of lead on children and adults cannot be detected”… “the magnitude of benefits estimated in the United States suggests that phasing out lead from gasoline is likely to produce substantial benefits in all countries.” (Lovei 1998)

2000 - European Union bans leaded gasoline at the pump. (Kitman 2000b)

2000 Mar 20 - Kitman declares: “the benefits of lead antiknock additives were wildly and knowingly overstated in the beginning, and continue to be. Lead is not only bad for the planet and all its life forms, it is actually bad for cars and always was.” (Kitman 2000c)

2002 – World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) takes two decisions to protect children’s health from exposure to lead. Firstly, the WSSD Plan of Implementation (POI) called for: “Supporting the phasing out of lead in gasoline.” One result of WSSD 2002 was that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) set up the Partnership for Cleaner Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) with a core goal of global elimination of leaded petrol.

2002 Dec 27 - Study links early adult deaths to lead - 30 million in U.S. could be at risk – US researchers find that even low levels of lead in the blood, [mainly due to the use of leaded gasoline] raise blood pressure and are predicted to cause early death in as many as 30 million US adults. (Kotulak 2002)

2003 – The LEAD Group became the first Australian Partner of the PCFV and took a “watch and learn” attitude to see how the United Nations goes about achieving its goals. A: slowly.

2003 Oct 28 – “IPIECA’s [International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association] Fuels and Vehicles Working Group addresses environmental issues related to the refining and distribution of fuels, in particular working towards the elimination worldwide of the use of lead as an additive in motor gasoline. IPIECA believes that the worldwide development of catalytic car exhaust technology, which leads to cleaner air in urban areas, should not be inhibited and that the developing world should benefit from modern fuels which are available now in most countries. The removal of lead is important to public welfare because it will allow the introduction of widely available vehicle catalytic exhaust technology to improve air quality.” (IPIECA 2003)

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