No lead in Lanka

Sri Lanka is set to curb atmospheric lead pollution by introducing lead-free petrol for its cars

By Nalaka Gunawardene
Published: Thursday 15 February 1996

-- (Credit: Vishwajyoti)BETTER late than never, Sri Lanka's market gets lead-free petrol for the first time from this year, thanks to prolonged lobbying by environmentalists. "This was essentially a follow-up to numerous requests made by environmentalists," said Eric Nanaykkara, deputy general manager of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation - the country's sole petrol importer and distributor. "There will never be a totally green petrol. What we can do is to take steps to minimise its impacts on the environment."

The introduction of lead-free petrol will also enable car dealers to import high performance cars which use catalytic converters. Usually, lead compounds like tetraethyl lead is added to petrol to improve ignition and fuel efficiency. Much of this lead is released in the air by plying vehicles, which in Sri Lanka are believed to be the principal source of lead pollution, followed by lead-based paints and various industrial activities.

The introduction of lead-free petrol comes not a moment too soon, A recent study conducted by Matini Arewgoda, a chemistry lecturer at the Kelaniya University near Colombo, shows alarmingly high levels of lead in human blood due to vehicle emissions. Particularly, a level of more than 2.5 times the maximum level suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO) has been found in the blood samples of traffic policemen. Malini also analysed blood samples of different categories of people extracted during rush hours in Colombo.

Results showed that traffic policemen had 53.07 mg of lead per decilitre of blood - the highest level of all categories studied, followed by taxi drivers (15.12 mg), street vendors (12.59 mg) and motorcycle riders (11.97 mg). The control group, comprising adults away from the city, had an average blood lead level of 8.77 mg per decilitre.

"These findings should cause deep concern in the community, especially when compared with the maximum blood lead level suggested by WHO, which is 20 mg per decilitre," says a scientist with Environmental Foundation, a leading Larkan NGO.

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