Leaded Gasoline Phase-Out

Despite known health hazards and the efforts of local and federal leaders to discourage its use, some Americans persist in filling up with leaded gasoline.

| March/April 1985

The windy city is showing us all how to get the lead out, now that it has placed a total ban on the sale of leaded gasoline within the city of Chicago's limits. Nationwide, auto emissions account for 95% of all airborne lead, which, studies have shown, passes from the respiratory system into the bloodstream, causing damage to the kidney, liver, and reproductive systems as well as to the brain. Children in urban areas have been found to be particularly vulnerable to poisoning from airborne lead. Other cities are expected to follow Chicago's action.

Meanwhile, however, many Americans seem intent on keeping the lead in. Although since1975 the federal government has required that all new American autos be designed to run only on unleaded gasoline, surveys reveal that approximately 13% of all autos in the U.S. are purposely "misfueled." In an apparent attempt to save a few pennies per gallon, many drivers of unleaded-only vehicles run their autos on regular leaded gasoline anyway. The pitfall: Leaded gas causes catalytic converters — the most common antipollution devices in cars —to malfunction. The vehicles' emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and lead can jump as much as 800% as a result.

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