LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News Vol 1 no 3 Spring 1993   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.

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Two Cheers for the Round Table Conference on Lead in Petrol

By Herbert 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 programs.

  • 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 1995.

  • 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 companies.

  • 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 NSW Government.

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 Issues".

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' Demands:

  • 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.

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