Leaded Gasoline in Kenya
Daniel Atz
History of Leaded Fuel
Abridged Recent History of Kenya
Fundamental Changes Needed
Since the beginning of automobile production there had always been an outstanding
issue with high compression internal combustion engines and gasoline. The engine
burns the gasoline for energy, but if the gasoline ignites overly quickly the piston is
slammed – this is called engine knocking. Researches discovered that raising the
octane level of the fuel by mixing in an additive would decrease the burning rate and
thus engine knocking. In 1922, tetraethyl lead was first added to gasoline as a cheap
octane-raising additive. It also provided the benefit of lubricating the exhaust valve
stem, reducing valve ageing.
Kenya has a complicated economic history. For a long time Kenya had a very low
annual economic growth rate. As recent as 2005 the rate shot up above 5%, still
below the 7% needed to help develop a country. However, Kenya has always
been seen as a stable country in Africa with a large middle class, relative to the
rest of Africa. Many international businesses base their Africa operations in
Kenya’s capital Nairobi, including Google, General Electric, and Cisco. Many
international organizations are also based out of Nairobi, including the UN
Environmental Protection agency. However, this stable status is often
overshadowed by government corruption. The December 2007 election was
largely seen as rigged, resulting in weeks of nationwide rioting and ethnic violence.
The violence lead to the deaths of over 1,000 people and the internal displacement
of 100,000s of people. A coalition government formed between the two major
political parties involved in the election eventually calmed down the rioting.
However, it is not yet statistically clear how badly the rioting coupled with the
international economic downturn will affect Kenya’s economy.
Shell and Total (originally Chevron) own a 50% stake in the Kenya Petroleum
Refinery. The Kenyan government owns the other half. This refinery refines most of
the gasoline in Kenya. In 2003, the head of the refinery asked the government for
US$265 million to update the refinery to mass-produce unleaded gasoline.
However, the funding has yet to arrive and updates have yet to take place due to
governmental wrangling. Further, people are reluctant to switch to unleaded fuels
even though most vehicles can easily use it. Using leaded gasoline in older vehicles
is costing around US$72 million per year in repairs due to engine corrosion .
However, starting in the 1970s, society started to realize what a horrible mistake
leaded gasoline was for global public health. Lead additives to automobile fuel were
the greatest cause of lead exposure worldwide. Lead from fuel first contaminates the
air leading to inhalation; air pollution then also pollutes dust and soil, which pollute
drinking water and crops. The world should have seen this coming from day one.
The first factory to produce tetraethyl lead experienced an outbreak of acute
neuropsychiatry disease and 80% of the workers developed convulsions with five
deaths. Many other epidemiological studies have been done. A 2004 US study also
connected children of mothers from the 1960s who were highly exposed to metal in
automobile exhaust, to be twice as likely to develop schizophrenia. Much of the lead
research surrounds lead exposure to children. The nervous systems of the fetus and
infant are especially susceptible to lead. The effects on the nervous system result in
lowered intelligence and disruption of normal behavior. The brain also has little
capacity to repair itself, so these are permanent damages.
Until the 1970s, on average, gasoline contained .4 grams of lead per liter. Leaded
gasoline phase-out started in the USA with the 1970 Clean Air Act, which required
unleaded gasoline production and availability by 1975. 1975 was chosen because
that year US automobiles started including catalytic converters to reduce other
unhealthy emissions. The converters were rendered unusable by leaded gasoline.
More legislation through the 1980s reduced leaded gasoline until the 1990 Clean Air
Act, which set 1996 as the year that lead was banned in the USA. By 1996, 80% of
the world’s gasoline was lead free. Other additives, such as ethanol, became clear
healthier and financial choices. By this time many countries had already completely
banned leaded gasoline, with Japan as early as 1980. The European Union and
China completely banned leaded gasoline in 2000.
Kenya Facts at a Glance
Downtown Nairobi.
Leaded Gasoline Reform Appeals from the United Nations
Despite the UN Environmental Program (UNEP)’s claiming since the 1980’s that it
only takes US$.02 per liter to take the lead out of gasoline, many countries
continue to ignore the call. UNEP also claims the cost to the environment and
public health directly outweigh the two-cent fee. To this day, around 30 states
continue to use leaded gasoline such as Cuba and Mongolia, and many more do
so unofficially. One area that UNEP targeted in particular to eliminate leaded
gasoline usage was Sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya. In June 2001, 25
countries of Sub-Saharan Africa met in Dakar, Senegal and signed the Dakar
Declaration of 2001 to phase out leaded gasoline. This was followed up upon in
2002 by the developed world in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable
Development. By 2003 some countries started eliminating leaded gasoline.
In that same year UNEP announced that now 90% of the world’s gasoline was
unleaded and that they hoped that the Dakar Declaration would be carried out in
full by 2008. At the same time, they announced more advanced economies in the
area, including Kenya, had pledged a deadline of 2005-06 to eliminate leaded
fuels. With these dates set, it came as a surprise that in December of 2005 UNEP
sent out a press release claiming that only one more country, South Africa, needed
to complete the conversion to only unleaded fuels. The release claimed the
conversion would be done by the beginning of the year. Thus, by 2006 SubSaharan Africa would be leaded gasoline free. Their goal had been met.
Epidemiologists say that urban areas are the worst when it comes to lead pollution,
and for that matter, most other forms of pollution. With high-density traffic, lots of
pollutants come out into the air. Kenya now has 935,000 private automobiles on its
roads. Over half of them are located in Nairobi, a city of 4.3 million people that only
45 years ago was a city of 350,000. With the extreme pollution associated with so
many cars, especially with many running on leaded gasoline, it then makes sense
that Nairobi is a very polluted, and lead poisoned, city.
A 2005 study done by Kenyatta University (a top university in Kenya) found soil
lead levels in the Nairobi Central Business District at 265,918 μg/kg. The World
Health Organization suggests a level under 110. Milk found at the same location
contained 40 μg/L, with the suggested level at 20. The study went on to test blood
lead levels from 4 school or medical sites around Nairobi and one lead
occupational site. 253 people took part in Nairobi, with 41% aged from 3-20. The
results found 55% had blood levels under 4.9μg/dl, 20% from 5 to 9.9, and 25%
above 10 μg/dl. One sample had as high as 65 μg/dl, found at the occupational
site. The researchers then went to a small village and did blood level tests on 55
people. They found the highest at 4.1 μg/dl. In Nairobi, the highest nonoccupational blood lead levels were found in those less than 10 years of age. Of
those, 23% were above 10 μg/dl. The study attributes such high levels in the
densely populated city to leaded gasoline.
Another study was done in Kisumu, an urban area by Lake Victoria in Kenya.
Here, tap water was found to have 140 to 260 μg/g, above the WHO suggest 10
μg/g. Fish were found to have 1 to 3.3 μg/g, above the suggested .2 μg/g.
Reality Check
The Republic of Kenya is an Eastern African country that is 582,650 square
kilometers or around twice the size of Nevada. Its capital is Nairobi and the country
is split into 7 provinces. The country has a population of 37,953,840 people based on
a July 2008 estimate that takes into account the effect of a 6.7% AIDS rate among
adults in the country. This implies a lower life expectancy, higher death rates, lower
population growth rate, and changes in distribution of population by age and sex.
The actual population growth rate is 2.758% and the infant mortality rate is 56 deaths
per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy at birth is 56 years for both sexes. This
compares to the United States where the population is 303 million, the population
growth rate is 0.883%, and the infant mortality rate is 6.3/1000. Males are expected
to live 75 years and females 81 years, and the AIDS rate is 0.6%.
Kenya’s official languages are English and Kiswahili. 85.1% of the population is
literate and 6.9% of the GDP is spent on education. This compares to 99% literacy
rates in the USA and 5.3% of the GDP on education. Kenya’s currency is the
Kenyan Shilling, which is converted at the rate of 79 per US$1. Kenya’s gross
domestic property by purchasing power parity is US$61.2 billion, with a per capita
amount of US$1,700. The unemployment rate in Kenya is 40%. The GDP (PPP) of
the USA is $13.78 trillion, the average per capita income is $46,000, and
unemployment rates were set at 4.6% (2007). However, interestingly enough, the
distribution of wealth in Kenya is rated at GINI 44.5, which is extremely close to the
USA’s distribution of wealth at 45.
According to Kenya’s The Standard newspaper, virtually none of the Sub-Saharan
African countries have truly eliminated leaded gasoline, especially Kenya. There
are several factors behind this:
Kenya consumes on an average day 50,000 barrels of gasoline, compared to 2
million in France and 20.5 in the USA. The average price of a gallon of gasoline in
Nairobi on 12/04/2008 is US$3.73. Even though prices have recently dropped in
the USA, the price difference reflects different fuel taxation structures and
transportation hardship. The two major gasoline corporations in Kenya are
France’s Total with 35% of the market and Shell Kenya (a subsidiary of Shell and
BP International) with 22% of the market. Total recently acquired Chevron Kenya,
which decided to leave the market. According to competition rules, Total now has
too large of a percent of the market. Shell’s 22% market share gives it 131 retail
service stations; Total had only 100 service stations before acquiring Chevron’s
large stake in Kenya.
Total and Shell refer to the different types of fuel as “unleaded” vs. “normal” and
offer both at most of their stations. Shell’s information relating to leaded versus
unleaded gasoline makes it very clear to its Kenya based customers that unleaded
gasoline does cost more, but many people and other countries argue it is better to
use unleaded. The major domestic Kenyan gasoline corporation, Kenol has 11%
of the market with 74 stations. Kenol is very upfront about its views on unleaded
gasoline. They offer unleaded at many, but not all, locations.
Kenya has several issues to work out with leaded gasoline. First off, they should
admit that their government failed to stop production and use of leaded gasoline.
Then their government needs to design a campaign to end usage. This
campaign should include programs of public awareness about lead poisoning,
pollution, and the bad affects on car motors and the associated repair costs.
Then, a new timetable needs to be set up to phase out leaded gasoline. Unlike
in Europe and the United States where lead was phased out of gasoline over
decades, Kenya does have to condense the time for reasons of public safety.
Their best plan is to enact greater fuel taxes on leaded gasoline. With their
strong Revenue Authority, this is absolutely possible. However, government
wrangling is keeping it from happening. All Kenya needs to do is observe how
other countries did a tax phase out of leaded gasoline. In Hong Kong, leaded
gasoline was made a dollar more expensive and within a month use was down
50%. However, the government also must cope with such a low GDP per capita.
It will be hard for people to replace older cars that need leaded gas, and a
system of compensation should be put in place for that.

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