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Public health boost as country switches to unleaded petrol?

Traffic in Amman. The recent decision to switch to unleaded fuel has coincided with a measure to increase petrol prices by 30 percent. Dana Hazeen/IRIN
Many petrol stations across Jordan no longer sell leaded petrol after a government decision to switch to unleaded fuel in a bid to improve public health. Emissions from vehicles which use leaded petrol are believed to be harmful - especially to children.

[Read this report in Arabic]

Medical experts say short-term exposure to high levels of lead can result in brain and kidney damage, while chronic exposure could affect the blood and central nervous system, blood pressure, kidneys and the body's ability to metabolise vitamin D. Children are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead, because they absorb lead more easily than adults and are more susceptible to its harmful effects, according to specialists.

Lead has been linked with reduced intelligence, attention deficit disorders and behavioural difficulties, according to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Ministry of Environment officials said the move to phase out leaded petrol began two years ago as part of Jordan’s commitment to a global initiative to phase out the use of lead in fuel.

"As of early March, Jordan no longer produces regular gasoline and all gas stations have abided by this decision. This is part of our commitment to the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) agreement," said Essa Shboul, spokesman of the Ministry of Environment.

Other countries in the region - including Syria, Lebanon, the oil rich Gulf states, and Egypt - have already completely switched to unleaded fuel. "We lagged behind most countries due to technical reasons, but now we are on track," said Shboul.

The decision to switch to unleaded fuel coincided with a measure to increase petrol prices by 30 percent.

Import ban

The switch to unleaded gas paves the way for cleaner vehicle technologies, such as catalytic converters, which can reduce harmful emissions from vehicles by over 90 percent, UNEP says.

Yassin Khaiat, director-general of the Jordan Institution for Standards and Metrology (JISM), said the government is banning the import of vehicles without a catalytic converter.

"Instructions have been given to customs officials to reject vehicles not fitted with converters as of 2008," said Khaiat.

Photo: Dana Hazeen/IRIN
The Jordanian government is banning the import of vehicles without a catalytic converter, which can reduce harmful emissions from vehicles by over 90 percent, UNEP says

Environmentalists still worried

However, some environmentalists are less than happy: Ahmed Koufahi, executive manager of Jordan Environment Group, said a hazardous chemical compound, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), used to convert leaded fuel to unleaded could cause cancer and posed serious risks to humans and the environment. He said the country lacked the necessary infrastructure to prevent leakage of the highly toxic material.

"Such additives are as bad if not worse than using leaded fuel. We warned the government not to switch to unleaded fuel until all gas stations were equipped with the necessary technology to contain the materials."

Officials from the Ministry of Environment ruled out the use of alternatives: "Ethanol is very expensive and is available in a limited number of countries," said Shboul.

Jordan has taken a number of measures to reduce pollution, including installing Internet-linked sensors to monitor vehicle emissions in cities. It has also set up an environmental police division to monitor the implementation of environmental legislation passed by parliament in 2007.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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