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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 274

(Question No. 1298)

Senator Ian Macdonald asked the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, upon notice, on 30 March 1994:

  With reference to an article in the Canberra Times on 11 March 1994 regarding the Government's program to reduce unleaded fuel usage and comments by leading British environmental scientist, Dr Roger Perry:

  (1) (a) Is it a fact that changes in the levels of lead in people's blood have no correlation with the changing levels of lead in petrol; and (b) please detail the proof of any such correlation or non-correlation.

  (2) (a) Is it a fact that the use of unleaded fuel in old motor vehicles risks a major rise in the incidence of leukemia due to increased emissions of benzene; (b) please explain the relationship between leukemia and benzene; and (c) please explain the benzene content of fuel and fuel emissions.

  (3) (a) Is it a fact that the Government has spent millions of dollars in a campaign to encourage owners of old motor vehicles to use unleaded fuel; and (b) please outline the Government's program to encourage current users of leaded fuel in their motor vehicles to use unleaded fuel and the costs involved in this program.

  (4) (a) Did the Federal Government take the health risks of unleaded fuel use in old cars into account before embarking on its program to encourage motorists to switch to unleaded fuel and increasing the fuel excise; and (b) please outline the health risks of using unleaded and leaded fuel in pre-1986 motor vehicles which were studied by the Government before embarking on this program.

Senator Faulkner —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) A report "Reducing Lead Exposure in Australia, An Assessment of Impacts", prepared by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology for the National Health and Medical Research Council cited studies conducted in the United States of America which showed a clear correlation between the level of lead in people's blood and the level of lead in fuel.

  A major source of preventable lead pollution is generated by burning leaded petrol. It has been estimated that this contributes 90% of lead in air. Lead in air contributes to lead in dust, soil and water. Generally, where lead levels in petrol and the usage of leaded petrol have fallen, there is a reduction in blood lead levels.

  (2) (a) In Australia no.

  (b) Benzene is a known carcinogen which is strongly linked to the incidence of leukemia.

  (c) Benzene content of crude oil is very low. It is formed in several refinery operations, the main source being catalytic reforming. In Australia benzene content of petrol is restricted to a maximum 5%.

  (3) (a) and (b) The Government has spent 2.89 million dollars on a campaign designed to encourage owners of pre-1986 cars, which are able to use unleaded petrol, to do so. A list of cars able to use unleaded petrol was prepared with the cooperation of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and the car companies and distributed widely through motoring and motor trade associations and the oil companies. Educational material was prepared for motor mechanics dealing with technical aspects of switching to unleaded petrol. An advertising campaign was run on television and in the newspapers and the oil companies assisted the campaign through service station displays, signs and promotions.

  Additionally, educational material was prepared for medical professionals, home renovators and professional painters highlighting the risks associated with lead exposure.

  (4) (a) There are no additional health risks because standard leaded petrol produced in Australia is essentially the same in benzene producing potential as leaded.

  (b) The health risks associated with exposure to lead have been extensively examined and documented in Australia and overseas. They include impaired intellectual development in children, kidney damage and raised blood pressure. The following initiatives were undertaken in Australia to review the health effects of lead: Commonwealth and State health and environmental agencies jointly sponsored the "International Meeting on Non-Occupational Exposures to Lead" in Melbourne, October 1992. This meeting brought together Australian and international experts to discuss recent studies into health effects of lead.

  The Commonwealth Department of Human Services and Health commissioned the South Australian Health Commission to conduct a review of public exposure to lead in Australia. The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology was also commissioned to prepare the report "Reducing Lead Exposure in Australia—An Assessment of Impacts and Risk Analysis of Economic and Environmental Impacts".

  The findings were reviewed at the June and November 1993 meetings of the National Health and Medical Research Council, which recommended a goal for all Australians to achieve a blood lead level of less than 10 micrograms per decilitre, with 15 micrograms per decilitre to be achieved by 1998.

  Strategies put in place by Commonwealth and State Governments to meet that goal should be sufficient to achieve a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per decilitre in 90% of children, aged 0-4 years, by 1998. A blood lead survey is being carried out later in 1994 to assess progress of the lead reduction program.