We welcome the swift intervention of the Union Petroleum Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, to ascertain the status of the use of the MMT (methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl), a manganese-based octane enhancer in petrol. This has elicited voluntary admission from the national oil companies that they will not blend MMT in petrol "any more". For the first time, Indian oil companies have volunteered to discontinue the use of a harmful substance in the face of strong public concern. Following a similar voluntary decision by the oil majors in the US and Canada, MMT business had just about begun to shift its base to Asia and Africa. The proactive move by the government has stalled its insidious entry into India.
In a written communiqué to CSE, the Union Petroleum Minister has affirmed:
"I have got the reports from our oil PSUs. I have been informed that except for Numaligarh Refinery Ltd (NRL), which uses marginal quantities of MMT as a trimming agent for a marginal increase in the octane number of motor spirit, other public sector oil refineries are not using MMT any more. You will be glad to learn that NRL too will discontinue the use of MMT by March 2006 by when the new facilities being set up by them for producing motor spirit are expected to be completed." (See the letter)
This affirmation comes soon after Mr Aiyar’s initial assurance to CSE in the first week of May stating, "I am having the matter looked into." (See the letter). We are happy to note that the minister has responded to the public concern after we had drawn his attention to the blending of this deadly poison and sought his immediate intervention to stop MMT use at the national level.
With this proactive support, India has been quick to bring to a halt the use of MMT before the business could grow. This close encounter with the toxic trade underscores the importance of constant regulatory vigil to prevent the splatter of noxious additives in the fuel stream. After this forward step, the country urgently needs a comprehensive fuel additive policy to screen additives for hazards and to prevent any adverse fallout in future. The producers and sellers of fuel additives must be made liable and made to bear the burden of proof to provide clear evidence that these do not harm public health.
-- Anumita Roychowdhury
Right To Clean Air Campaign
MMT war: Tracking the combat [March – June 2005]…
-- In March this year, we had issued a public alert noting with deep concern and shock the use of MMT in petrol by oil companies in India. We had demanded urgent national action to save the country from falling prey to the lethal neurotoxin. Manganese particles from MMT blended petrol damage the brain and also foul up emission control components in vehicles.
-- We expressed deep concern to the Union Petroleum Minister and sought immediate intervention to stop blending of MMT at the national level.
-- At the same time, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was alerted about the MMT dump in two IOC refineries in Panipat and Mathura.
-- Urged by the CPCB, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) issued missives to the oil companies seeking clarifications on the use of MMT. The oil companies promptly assured DPCC that MMT would not be blended in petrol in Delhi. But they remained silent about its use in the rest of the country.
-- Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority urged the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to look into this matter.
-- The MMT question was raised in the Indian Parliament, with parliamentarians demanding to know steps taken by the government to ban the chemical immediately. (See the Parliament question)
Even the city governments made proactive moves:
-- Bangalore: In April 2005, in response to the alert issued by CSE, Bangalore’s transport commissioner, wrote to the state environment and ecology department, requesting it "to intervene in the matter and issue necessary direction to Karnataka State Pollution Control Board and petroleum companies in the interest of environment and public health." (See the letter).
-- Chennai: In May 2005, the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board, again in response to the CSE alert, shot off a missive to the Chennai Petroleum Corporation Ltd (CPCL) on May 10, 2005. In response, the Chennai Petroleum Corporation Ltd confirmed on May 18, 2005, "We are not adding MMT in the petrol produced by CPCL." (See the letter).
Air pollution is the fifth largest killer and seventh biggest illness burden in India as estimated by the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) report. The speed at which urban air pollution is growing across our cities is alarming. Severe particulate pollution and newer pollutants like nitrogen oxides, ozone and air toxics are worsening the public health challenge. Vehicles are a special challenge as these are the fastest growing sources of air pollution.