Tetraethyl lead (TEL) is an organometallic compound which is mixed with gasoline as an octane rating booster and plays an important role as engine antiknock. Tetraethyl lead has been used since the 1920s, but over the years it was discovered to be toxic and has been phased out in most areas of the world. The 2002 Earth Summit advocated for the total ban of leaded gasoline in all countries. By the year 2006, leaded gasoline was expected to be eliminated worldwide. The reasons behind the ban of leaded gasoline are the health effects of lead and its polluting effect on the environment. The majority of the countries have embraced the ban, but some countries still use leaded gasoline. These countries are Algeria, Iraq, Yemen, Myanmar, North Korea, and Afghanistan. The switch from leaded fuel to unleaded fuel has economic ramifications, and this could be the main reason why these countries have not been able to change to unleaded gasoline.
Countries That Still Use Leaded Gasoline
Algeria is a North African country with many oil wells. The economy of Algeria is dependent on oil which accounts for about 30% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Despite this, Algeria has been faced significant challenges in phasing out leaded gasoline. Refineries in Algeria produce leaded gasoline and transformation would require significant process changes in the industry. The cost of such a change would be enormous. Algeria has been importing tetraethyl lead from China, but some percentage may be coming from Innospec Limited. Algeria had committed to phasing out leaded petrol in its market by 2015. However, the current status of leaded petrol in the country is unknown.
Iraq is an oil-producing country with the second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia. Iraq has many refineries that have been dependent on leaded gasoline. The country had set up the transformation from lead to unleaded gasoline to be complete by the year 2014. The setbacks to transformation were the cost of changing the refinery and the cost of selling unleaded fuel. Iraq had been purchasing its tetraethyl lead from Innospec Limited which declared in 2011 that they were no longer selling TEL to Iraq.
Yemen has had a transition from using leaded gasoline and finally phased it out in 2011. The delay in transition was caused by the oil refineries which were dependent on leaded fuel. The expenses required to manufacture unleaded gasoline weighed too heavily on the economy of the nation.
Why leaded gasoline was phased out
Lead emitted from the engine exhaust into the air and the environment particularly along the roads is readily inhaled. High concentrations of TEL results in lead poisoning. Lead is toxic and can have neurological effects even with low level exposure. Other effects include low IQ and antisocial behaviors. Neurologists have argued that phasing out of lead may have caused average IQ levels to increase particularly among children.