Motoring: Unleaded is not as clean as it seems

THE oil companies must hate Derek Bryce-Smith. A former oil industry chemist who helped to invent one of the lead additives used to boost the octane rating of petrol, he became - as professor of toxicology at Reading University - Britain's most outspoken anti-lead man.

In the early Eighties, when the lead-in-petrol scandal was breaking and the car industry and the environmentalists had not yet jumped on the bandwagon, the professor lectured me for hours on the evils of the stuff. 'The disinformation campaign being run by the oil industry is worthy of the late Dr Goebbels himself,' was one choice quote.

A petrol industry executive later trotted out the usual 'there's no proof . . .' but almost everything he told me turned out to be claptrap.

Professor Bryce-Smith, now retired, is on the attack again. This time he is among those upbraiding the oil industry for using known carcinogens - such as benzene, toluene and xylene - in unleaded fuel, simply because they are cheap. One form of poison has merely been replaced by another, the professor says.

Some other experts agree that unleaded, in other words, is not as clean as it seems. Dr Simon Wolff of University College London claims that the extra levels of benzenes in unleaded fuel may cause childhood leukaemia. (British unleaded petrol contains up to 3 per cent benzene, American only 1 per cent; the EU limit is 5 per cent.)

The oil industry does not deny that benzene and the other lead substitutes are carcinogenic, but it claims that the level used is within safe limits and there is no firm evidence that the current levels cause cancer - which is what it was saying about lead less than 10 years ago.

One bit of good news: if your car is fitted with a catalytic converter - and new cars now have to be - there is not so much to worry about, because the cat 'converts' most of the carcinogens into harmless gases.

Cars 'converted' to run on unleaded petrol, however, are more problematic. There is now strong evidence that they are no cleaner than when they ran on four-star petrol, never mind what the Government, the car manufacturers, the oil industry, or the environmentalists told motorists several years ago.

THE Chancellor cited environmental reasons for his drastic Budget increase in the price of petrol, with the prospect of more to come in future budgets. But his hope that such revenue will help Britain to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions, as promised in last year's Rio summit, is unlikely to be borne out.

Only a draconian price rise would deter people from using their cars, and Mr Clarke surely knows this would be politically suicidal. So the increase in petrol duty is merely a way of soaking the motorist, who has little alternative but to pay up.

Many drivers will try to save money by cutting down on servicing and maintenance - which leads to higher fuel consumption, which leads to the creation of more carbon dioxide, which leads to more urban pollution.

CARS in Britain, by and large, are not well maintained. That, as much as their sheer volume - and dreadfully out-of-tune diesel buses - is the reason for the rancid air on our high streets. Britain's car-makers know this, and have devised a rather profitable way (for them) of solving the problem: they want to ban cars more than 10 years old.

This is the brainwave of Geoffrey Whalen, Peugeot's chief executive in Britain and head of the motor industry lobbying group, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Ford's chief excecutive in Britain, Ian McAllister, agrees. He cites the fact that modern catalyst-equipped petrol cars emit 97 per cent fewer pollutants than those built 10 years ago.

Overtures have been made to the Government, suggesting ways of ridding the streets of such old-timers. The most practical method would be the introduction of a prohibitively expensive MoT test fee for these vehicles. Only the owners of much-loved classic cars - which the society has said it does not want to prohibit - would pay up.

There are a number of problems with the motor traders' approach, quite apart from its tendentiousness (it cites environmental concern, but clearly such a ban would help the car trade shift more new or near-new cars). Old cars do not necessarily pollute more. Poorly maintained cars are the worst polluters, irrespective of their age; roadside pollution monitoring by the RAC has shown that among the worst polluters are year-old non-catalyst cars.

The only way to crack down on poorly maintained cars is to impose much stricter emission tests as part of the annual MoT inspection. The current emissions test - which does not even apply to diesel cars, probably the worst polluters when they get old - is a joke. The limits are absurdly easy, and, if you fail at one test centre, it is usually no big problem to have Old Smoky processed by a less diligent mechanic.

Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 5
film
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

    Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss