Thu, 13 Apr 2000

Indonesia 'lags behind' in curbing lead use

JAKARTA (JP): While many countries had successfully ended the use of lead in gasoline, Indonesia was still home to a large amount of the hazardous substance, an environmental observer said on Wednesday.

Washington D.C.-based director of international programs at the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning (AECLP) James Rochow referred to a world map reflecting leaded gasoline sales at the beginning of this year.

The map showed some regions where the use of leaded gasoline was still abundant, he said.

"Indonesia is the most conspicuous example of a country that has not yet put itself on the verge of phasing out leaded gasoline," he said in a Worldnet dialog via satellite to commemorate Earth Day, which falls on April 22.

Among the participants in the forum, which discussed air pollution-related issues, were representatives from non- governmental organizations (NGOs) and officials from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and the United States.

Project officer of Clean Air Project Indonesia, under the NGO Swisscontact, Dollaris Riauaty said the government lacked the political will to phase out leaded gasoline and failed to make it a priority.

Lead is used to increase the octane number of gasoline to lower its burning point and make it easier to burn. Each U.S. gallon of gasoline in Indonesia contains one cc of lead. That equals 0.3 grams of lead in every liter of gasoline.

Lead poisoning may cause upper respiratory tract infections, increase blood pressure, cause heart attacks and damage kidneys. Recent research conducted by Swisscontact reveals that lead poisoning decreases sperm quality and quantity.

Low levels of exposure in children can produce permanent damage to the nervous system, including a reduction in intelligence and attention spans, reading and learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

Despite the many campaigns of NGOs to end the use of leaded gasoline, the government has delayed its own deadline for state oil company Pertamina to stop producing leaded gasoline from last December to 2003.

Director for Air Pollution Control at the Environmental Impact Management Agency (Bapedal) told reporters that while the government was fully committed to phasing out leaded gasoline, it faced financial problems.

AECLP revealed on their website that countries which had already phased out leaded gasoline had demonstrated that it was practicable, cost-effective and could be done quickly, in both developed and developing countries.

The compound tetra ethyl lead (TEL) and tetra methyl lead (TML) used in gasoline can be substituted with other additives, such as the lead-free High Octane Mogas Component (HOMC).

To end the country's dependence on imports of HOMC, a Pertamina spokesman said in February that the company needed foreign loans to build a catalytic reformer unit to produce the additive.

Dollaris said she suspected the government was not serious in coping with the matter and was only under pressure from international organizations, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Clean energy conversion, including unleaded gasoline, was among the several points in the 1998 letter of intent between the Indonesian government and the IMF.

"We are still not sure whether the government is bound to this commitment because so far no action plan has been put on the table," Dollaris said. (08)