for the Round Table Conference on Lead in Petrol
Beauchamp (Toxic Chemicals Committee,
Total Environment Centre).
I attended the Lead Summit on the 29th July 1993 as
a representative of the Consumers Health Forum and was impressed by the
efficient and capable chairing of this conference by the Federal
Minister of the Environment, Mrs Kelly.
While it fell short of community, consumer and
environment groups' expectations, it pushed the oil companies further in
the direction of lead reduction than any action which could have been
expected from the NSW Government. This paper compares the joint
statement prepared by the community groups prior to the conference, with
the final release from Mrs Kelly's office after the conference. It also
indicates other areas in the lead debate which need urgent attention.
The joint statement of the community groups
contained the following objectives:
Reduction of lead in petrol to 0.15g/L by the
beginning of 1994.
Total elimination of lead in petrol by the
beginning of 1995.
The creation of significant price differential
between leaded and unleaded petrol to encourage a rapid switch to
unleaded petrol. Funds so generated to be used for lead abatement
Reduction in lead in petrol not be achieved at
the expense of exacerbating other pollutant hazards, such as an
increase in benzene concentration.
The final communiqué from the conference included
the following points:
There was agreement that there are compelling
health reasons to reduce lead in petrol.
There was broad support for a national approach
tempered by regional differences.
There was agreement that petrol refined in Vic
and NSW would have lead content no higher than 0.2 g/L by end of
1994 and that other states would follow by the latest at the end of
The total phase out was not addressed except in
a general statement that it should be achieved as soon as practical.
The oil companies requested legislation
reducing octane rating from 97 to 96, so that any negative reaction
by the public would target the government rather than the oil
The addition of octane enhancers such as MTBE
as a replacement of lead, is to be studied.
There was agreement on a national education
campaign targeted at consumers and petrol station operators, to be
undertaken in partnership by government, industry" unions,
community groups, and trade organisations with particular focus on
health benefits and information at the pump. There was also support
for a name change from Super to Leaded petrol.
The importance of a price differential was
emphasised by many participants. The economy and equity implications
were noted. The importance of an incentive element in the total
package was recognised. Price differences ranging between two and
five cents were canvassed. Community groups, Victorian government
representatives and some industry representatives strongly argued
the case for price differentials, but some States, particularly NSW
emphasised their opposition.
Mrs Kelly indicated that this is a Federal
decision and may go ahead despite state opposition.
A further conference in twelve months' time to
reassess success of strategies was agreed to.
It was decided that all governments should work
towards the development of a national lead abatement strategy,
including appropriate strategies for remediation of areas with site
specified lead problems.
Comparison of Positions
The main difference between the two position papers
is the timetabling of lead reduction in petrol, and the failure of the
meeting to agree on a price differential between the two grades of
petrol. This pivotal step, recognised as an essential ingredient by Mrs
Kelly, will only happen if she is able to convince Cabinet colleagues to
accept her view.
A positive outcome of the conference was that it
locked all parties into an education programme which, if carried out
satisfactorily, could have a major effect on the lead load.
It needs to be realised that approximately 40% of
all vehicles are now using non-leaded petrol, that a further 25% could
use non-leaded petrol immediately, and that about another 20% could use
non-leaded petrol if the owner was willing to use an occasional tank of
leaded petrol for lubrication.
The remaining 15% of the fleet can probably not use
unleaded petrol, and about 4000 pre 1972 cars might be damaged by the
use of unleaded petrol. The latter are highly polluting vehicles and
would certainly not pass the emission tests to be soon introduced by the
It is important to realise that while the petrol
debate is the most important one in the lead load reduction strategy,
there are many other sources of lead intake which need addressing.
Most of these were dealt with in a paper (printed
in LEAD Action News 2) presented to the recent conference organised by
TEC on "The Toxic Chemical Load - Public Health and Environment
We urge all community groups to publicise the data
on the type of models which can run satisfactorily on unleaded petrol.
We further urge them to ask garages in their area to display information
and give unbiased advice to motorists.
In 1986, the former State Pollution Control
Commission (SPCC) spent $3 million to educate the public in respect of
the models which could use lead-free petrol.
This may have been a poorly targeted campaign, or
insufficient money was spent, because it was totally ineffective.
Community . and health groups need to pressurise
all levels of government, unions, industry and trade associations to
make major commitment for the next campaign to be successful.
Background Notes to Justify Community Groups'
With the exception of Spain and Portugal, all
members of the European community have reduced lead in petrol to
0.15 g/L. Canada and Japan reduced it to zero three years ago. The
USA reduced lead in petrol to 0.026 g/L in 1986. New Zealand will
eliminate lead in petrol by 1996.
Reducing the level of lead to 0.15 g/L by 1995
would achieve a saving of $3.9 billion in health costs, according to
a recent report by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
The Chairperson of the NHMRC, Dr Diana Horvath,
spoke very succinctly for a major reduction in lead in petrol and
was a very positive voice in the ensuing discussion. Dr Horvath emphasised
the point that 90% of lead in air results from lead in petrol. She
also indicated the IQ and health problems which are caused by
increased lead in children.
The Deni Greene report indicates that over
400,000 children would exceed the NHMRC level of concern (which has
now been reduced to 10 µg/dL) by 1996 and 300,000 children by 1998
at existing lead levels in petrol, which would have dropped to
130,000 children by 1996 and 115,000children by 1998 if lead in
petrol were reduced to O. 15 g/L. (For the compromise level of 0.2
g/L the figures can be extrapolated.)
The Deni Greene study indicates that 70-75 % of
lead intake by children is due to dust and soil loaded with lead
from petrol, paint and industrial sources with the balance coming
from food and water.
It takes approximately two years before the
lead fallout in gardens, etc is washed away, so even by taking
action at the end of 1994, the benefit to children will be slow in
arriving and will only be felt by 1997.
It is noteworthy that approximately 70 % of
lead in petrol is emitted in exhaust fumes. This amounts to about
550 tonnes a year for Sydney residents. Assuming that Sydney has
probably about one million houses, the lead load per house is in the
order of 1/2 kilogram.
The average price difference between leaded
petrol and unleaded petrol in Europe is 8.2%. This is equivalent
to 6 cents in Australian terms. The largest price differentials are
17.5 % in Luxembourg and 15% in Germany.
Treasury has estimated that a five cent
addition to the cost of leaded petrol would generate $410 million in
93-94. Yearly funds of this magnitude could make significant inroads
into lead abatement.
There are many possible methods of reducing
lead in petrol and at the same time maintaining octane rating. The
increase in aromatics, such as benzene, would be an undesirable
option as benzene is a recognised carcinogen.
The oil companies present at the summit insist
on a regulatory process by which the octane rating is reduced from
97 to 96. The community groups are not opposed to this" A study
comparing customers' satisfaction to octane rating found that only
approx. 6% of customers considered 96 octane unsatisfactory,
compared with approx. 4 % who considered 97 octane unsatisfactory.
Reprinted from Petroleum Contaminated Soil
Prepared by Environmental Research Foundation,
P.O. Box 73700, Washington, DC 20056-3700
Phone (202) 328 1119
Fax (202) 4835110
Editor's Note: Crude Oil contains small
amounts of lead but the composition varies considerably depending upon
the oil field from which it comes" All the above compounds may
contain lead and lead-free petrol is more properly termed unleaded.