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Britain's campaign to banish toxic lead from gasoline revs up

Are children living in Britain's towns and cities being poisoned by lead fumes from gasoline?

Many health experts and, perhaps more significantly, 150 members of Parliament think they are. And a national campaign has been launched to banish lead from gasoline used by light and heavy vehicles in Britain.

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Evidence that toxic lead in gasoline is polluting the urban air and adversely affecting the health of the young has been available for years. But the British government has been reluctant to support demands that the petroleum companies should market lead-free gasoline as in the United States.

Last year it reduced the permitted amount of lead in gasoline from 0.40 grams per litre to 0.15 grams. But that, according to medical experts, is not good enough and they have advised the newly launched campaign for lead-free air (CLEAR for short) that only by completely eliminating lead from gasoline can the hazard of lead pollution in cities be curbed.

They also say that at least 40 percent of the pollution comes from gasoline burned by cars.

CLEAR wants the government to order that future automobiles produced in Britain should be made able to burn lead-free gasoline.

Already CLEAR is claiming a major success. The British Medical Association and the Automobile Association have formed a joint committee to examine the evidence and make recommendations to the government.

It is considered probable that the committee will recommend against lead and throw its authority behind demands for urgent government action.

But there is a problem looming in the shape of European attitudes to atmospheric pollution.

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Britain's car makers are saying that if they start producing vehicles modified to burn lead-free fuel, they will not be able to sell them in Europe where regulations on lead in gasoline are permissive.

West Germany is the only European Community member nation likely to insist on lead-free gasoline in the foreseeable future.

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