World freed from toxic leaded petrol: A global win

Source: This post is based on the article “World freed from toxic leaded petrol: A global win” published in the Down to Earth on 31st August 2021.

Relevance: removal of lead from petrol

Synopsis: It is a remarkable achievement for the global community to remove lead from petrol across the world. It will have positive impact on human health, especially on children and vehicle system. Let’s have a brief look into the topic.

Context

Globally, automotive fuel is completely lead-free now. Not a single fuel outlet sells leaded petrol any more anywhere.

It was announced formally by the United Nations Programme on Environment (UNEP) at a press event August 30, 2021. It has taken 100 years to stop the use of leaded fuel finally.

Furthermore, it is one of the most consistent, persuasive and aggressive global campaigns to fight the poison to protect public health, especially the brain health of children.

Background
  • The practice of adding tetraethyl lead to petrol had spread widely to all countries soon after its anti-knock and octane-boosting properties were discovered. This deadly neurotoxin has already done a great deal of harm since then.
  • While all countries have followed different timelines for the lead phaseout, developing countries, especially those in Africa and a few in Asia, have taken the longest time.
  • Algeria was the last country to phaseout lead from petrol.
  • The campaign was led and supported by the UNEP and its Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) in accomplishing the global objective.
What led to this success?
  • Setting of clear objectives agreed by all partners representing major target groups.
  • Adoption of a voluntary approach
  • Early attention given to high level political commitment such as the Dakar Declaration for sub-Saharan Africa
Effects of lead
  • On Human health– Fumes from petrol vehicles using leaded petrol has been a significant source of lead exposures. According to the WHO, lead is toxic. It affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children. It affects the brain, liver, kidneys and bones. Lead in bone is released into blood during pregnancy and becomes a source of exposure to the developing foetus.
    • According to WHO, there is no safe level for lead exposure.
  • On emission control system of vehicles– The lead has damaging impact on the emissions control systems of vehicles. Evidence suggest that lead in petrol damages the catalytic converters.
Efforts by India
  • India was among those countries that took early action to phase out leaded petrol.
  • Initially, low-leaded petrol was introduced in Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Madras in 1994, followed by unleaded petrol in 1995.
  • The entire country got low-leaded petrol in 1997 while leaded fuel was banned in the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
  • The final introduction of unleaded petrol in the entire country was mandated in April 2000.
  • India’s experience has also highlighted the importance of regulatory vigil on other harmful octane enhancers that could potentially replace lead in petrol.
  • After the lead phaseout, Indian refineries took voluntary steps to not use MMT (Methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl). It is a dangerous neurotoxin which several developed countries have virtually banned by setting an exceptionally low permissible limit for its use.

Conclusion

There is a great learning from this experience for future clean air action. This is relevant for similar and ongoing campaigns like reducing sulphur in fuels to enable application of advanced emissions control systems. It is also important to achieve much cleaner emissions worldwide.

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