EPA Orders Gasoline Lead Cut : Down From 1.1 Gram Per Gallon to 0.1 by Jan. 1

Associated Press

The Environmental Protection Agency said today that it will order the removal of virtually all the lead from leaded gasoline this year.

The agency announced final regulations reducing the permissible lead concentration in leaded gasoline from 1.1 grams per gallon to 0.5 of a gram on July 1 and 0.1 of a gram next Jan. 1.

This action will reduce lead use in gasoline from 33,000 tons to 5,500 tons this year alone, the agency said.


“There is no doubt in my mind that lead in the environment is still a national health problem and that gasoline is a major contributor to lead exposure,” said Lee M. Thomas, the EPA administrator.

Reagan Course Reversed

The Reagan Administration took office calling for a relaxation of lead rules, but then-EPA Administrator Anne Burford reversed course to halve the permissible concentration.

Lead poses another problem for the EPA--destruction of the effectiveness of the catalytic converters used on cars to reduce exhaust pollution. A survey of 1983 drivers showed that 16% of cars that were supposed to use lead-free fuel had been fueled with leaded gasoline. Many motorists apparently buy leaded gasoline because it is several cents cheaper.

Lead compounds are far and away the cheapest way to raise octane ratings to prevent engine knock. The EPA, however, estimates that the cost of making gasoline will increase by less than 1%. The agency did not attempt to estimate the change in retail cost beyond saying motorists would pay “slightly more.”

Complete Ban Rejected

The EPA for the time being has rejected a complete ban on leaded fuel, but also has rejected the option of delaying action until 1988. The agency will ask for public comment on banning lead entirely, possibly as early as 1988.

The 0.1 gram of lead will permit pre-1971 cars that might require leaded fuel to remain on the road. The EPA believes that only such engines, running under heavy load, really require lead to prevent valve damage.


Lead has long been known as a poison, which in high concentrations causes mental deterioration, kidney damage and anemia. The acceptable level of lead concentrations in the blood has been lowered several times in recent years.

Will Aid Children

The EPA believes its action will mean 172,000 fewer children will have blood lead concentrations above the new definition of lead poisoning adopted late last year by the Centers for Disease Control.

Children below the age of about 8 are far more vulnerable than adults. Most of their blood lead concentrations come from chewing on flakes of lead-based paint. But the EPA believes that in cities, lead in the air from auto exhaust makes a sizable contribution.

The EPA estimated last year that the IQ scores of 42,000 children under age 7 would rise an average of 2.2 points under its 0.1-gram option. That estimate assumed there would be no gain if blood concentrations of lead were above 30 micrograms.

The EPA believes its action also will mean net economic benefits to the economy of nearly $900 million a year in the form of reduced medical costs and lower maintenance costs for engines now fueled unnecessarily with leaded gasoline.