Getting the Lead Out

November 2003

Bangkok smog
Bangkok, Thailand

Lead emitted from motor vehicles is one of the most damaging environmental toxins in the world. Fortunately, it is an environmental challenge with a clear solution. We at ELAW U.S. are proud of our work helping local advocates get the lead out. The World Health Organization calls lead an ‘insidious and slow-acting poison.’ Lead hinders the neurological development, growth and intelligence of children, and increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes in adults.

Over the past 10 years, ELAW U.S. has worked with grassroots advocates around the world to protect citizens from the dangers of vehicle lead emissions.

Many countries have banned lead additives in gasoline. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began phasing out leaded gasoline in the early 1970’s. The EPA estimated that removing lead from gasoline in the U.S. prevents 45,000 cases of mental retardation and 15,000 deaths from strokes and heart attacks every year.

ELAW advocates played an important role in phasing out leaded gasoline in South Asia. When Indian environmental advocate M.C. Mehta asked India’s Supreme Court to phase out leaded gas, lawyers for the industry countered that India could not afford to do so. ELAW U.S. provided M.C. Mehta with U.S. EPA documents showing unleaded gasoline costs only pennies more per gallon to manufacture than leaded gasoline. Faced with this evidence, the Supreme Court of India issued the first of several orders phasing out leaded gas in India.

ELAW U.S. helped advocates in Nepal and Bangladesh build on the momentum of India’s pioneering Supreme Court judgments. Providing technical and legal information, ELAW U.S. helped environmental advocates with the Forum for Protection of Public Interest, Kathmandu, and the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, Dhaka, obtain judicial orders to curb and eliminate the use of lead in gas.

ELAW U.S. has helped environmental advocates in the Philippines win passage of the 1999 Philippines Clean Air Act, which banned the use of lead in gas by 2001. In South Africa, ELAW U.S. collaborated with lawyers who won a Cabinet decision in 2002 to ban the use of lead in gas by 2006, making South Africa the first African country to ban lead in gas. The fight to rid the world of leaded gas continues today. ELAW U.S. is helping advocates in South Africa counter a challenge by Octel Corporation, the world’s leading manufacturer of lead additives, to delay the phase out until 2010. And ELAW U.S. is working with lawyers in many other African countries to end the use of leaded gasoline.

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