New Delhi Urged to Rid Petrol of MMT Additive

Methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl used by some India refiners as octane enhancer despite environmental and health risks.

Published: 01-Apr-2005

New Delhi April 1, 2005: We note with deep concern and shock the use of MMT (methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl), a manganese-based octane enhancer, in petrol by oil companies in India. MMT forms manganese particles when it burns as a petrol additive. Inhaled manganese particles are a potent neurotoxin. Manganese deposits can also damage the emission control systems and catalytic converters in vehicles.

CSE has learnt that some oil companies are blending MMT in petrol as octane enhancers. Some major refineries have built manganese inventories. The use of MMT is only expected to grow, because it is highly attractive for refineries to use this low cost octane enhancer. It gives refineries greater flexibility and helps fine-tune production to meet the octane requirements while meeting the new Euro III and Euro II norms.

Following an alert from the Central Pollution Control Board, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) issued missives to the oil companies. Oil companies promptly assured DPCC that MMT will not be blended in petrol in Delhi - but remain quiet about the rest of the country. We need national action. We need urgent regulatory intervention to stop the use of this toxic substance, to protect public health.

Centre for Science and Environment has expressed its deep concern to the petroleum minister and has demanded immediate intervention to stop MMT use at the national level. 

Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority has already urged the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to look into this matter. There is enough evidence for us to be precautionary and take regulatory action to prevent its use in the country.

Deadly facts have emerged from many scientific studies on MMT from around the world. As an octane enhancer, MMT is expected to save fuel; but evidence shows it barely makes any difference. Its use has dangerous repercussions.

What you must know about MMT

Toxic risk: Studies such as those conducted by US-based Health Effects Institute show MMT produces fine particles laden with manganese oxides, associated with phosphates and highly soluble sulphates. More soluble particles dissolve in the blood more readily, and travel to the brain more rapidly. They enter the brain through the nasal passages without circulating in the blood first. Scary -- the clearance rate of manganese from the brain is slower than the absorption rate. This essentially damages the brain..

Damage to emission control systems: Even global carmakers have stated that their engine is not designed to use fuel or fuel additives with metallic compounds, including manganese-based additives. Evidence provided by the global vehicle industry shows MMT contaminates engine components and exhaust emission control systems. This can significantly increase emissions and lower vehicle fuel economy. Over a lifetime of a car, gaseous emissions can increase dramatically - from 118 per cent to 143 per cent. This means that the big investments in advanced catalyst technologies to meet tighter emissions standards will be jeopardised if manganese blocks them so quickly. This will defeat the emissions control efforts.

Developed world has almost stopped using MMT: Our oil companies ignore the fact that the use of MMT is already very meagre in the developed world. Canada, the only major user of MMT, has voluntarily reduced its use to such an extent that as much as 95 per cent of Canadian petrol is MMT-free today. California had already banned manganese additives in 1976. Other US states do not allow MMT in reformulated gasoline. Nor do the US or European oil majors. New Zealand has also effectively banned it with very stringent regulations on its use. Germany has not approved its use. Japan does not use MMT. Unfortunately, while the developed world is phasing it out, MMT is making inroads into Asia and Africa where leaded petrol was recently banned, and where regulatory safeguards for toxic additives are non-existent.
We can easily do without MMT: Euro II and Euro III requirements for octane can easily be met without the use of such enhancers (a specified octane rating helps vehicle engines resist knocking). Ample scientific evidence shows that MMT can at maximum increase the octane number by as little as one. Studies in the US have found that the loss in fuel economy by not using MMT is so meager and inexpensive that it does not justify the several times higher health costs associated with its use.

Stop MMT use before its business grows: India must act quickly to stop MMT coming into the fuel stream. Even countries such as the US and Canada, with strong technical and regulatory capacities and comprehensive regional laws, have found it difficult to fight the trade laws that govern such businesses in the NAFTA countries. USEPA was sued when it denied a waiver on a ban requested by Ethyl Corporation, the principal producer of MMT. Trade laws in the North are so restrictive that the regulatory agency - Environment Canada could not push through a ban in the face of Ethyl Corp.'s lawsuit against the Canadian government.

Indian oil companies must factor in environmental and public health considerations in products for mass consumption. Instead of becoming a conduit of this dirty trade, Indian oil companies should learn from the oil majors in the US and Canada. Faced with strong public concern, the US oil majors, even without a legal stick, have voluntarily disclosed that they are not using MMT and have no plans to do so.

Need regulations for fuel additives to screen them effectively for hazards: Make the producers and sellers of toxic fuel additives liable. Place the burden of proof on them to provide clear evidence that these substances do not harm public health. Germany goes one step further - not only is the burden of proof on the industry producing metallic additives; the German Federal Environment Agency even defines the test to prove their claims.

Remember what a difficult and a prolonged battle it was to rid tetraethyl lead from petrol -- for exactly the same reasons. Even lead affected the nervous system, kidneys and the gastrointestinal system and at the same time damaged catalytic converters in vehicles. We must not replace one toxic risk with another. We cannot jeopardise the pollution control efforts to bring in cleaner technologies and fuels in our country.

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