(30 July, 1996 — Washington) Warning of “largely unknown public health impacts”, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today sent letters to a dozen oil refiners calling on them to pledge not to use the manganese-based gasoline additive, MMT, unless it is given a clean bill of health, and to join Amoco, Anchor and Sunoco in promising to notify the public if they have any plans to use MMT in the future.
Earlier this year, Amoco, Anchor Gasoline, ARCO, BP, Chevron, Conoco, Exxon, Hess, Marathon Oil, Mobil, Penzoil, Phillips, Shell, Sun, and Texaco responded to an inquiry on MMT use from EDF and a coalition of 36 medical, consumer, religious and environmental groups representing more than 14 million members. The companies stated that they were not using MMT in US gasoline. Amoco, Anchor and Sunoco also agreed to notify the public if their plans change. In today’s letter sent to 12 major gasoline refiners and marketers, such as Exxon, Mobil and Shell, EDF called on the companies to confirm that they are not using MMT, to refrain from using MMT until EPA-approved health tests are completed, and to commit to inform the public before using MMT in the future.
EDF asked the companies to respond by August 9, 1996, and noted that EDF will publicly release their responses.
Airborne manganese at high doses has been found to cause disabling neurological impairments in movement and speech with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, but the public health impacts of the long-term, lower dose exposures resulting from MMT use cannot be adequately assessed with the information now available.
In April of 1996, the Canadian Minister of the Environment reintroduced legislation to ban the additive in that country. The April, 1996, issue of AUTOgram by the American Automobile Association said that MMT in fuel was “a case where the motorist could be the big loser.” A May, 1996, article in Consumer Reports magazine, after a review of all the issues, said “it makes no sense to put MMT into widespread use.” Gasoline specifications recently adopted by the American Automobile Manufacturers Association recommend against use of manganese additives, due to possible damage to automotive systems, and General Motors has included advisories in its 1997 owner’s manuals warning of possible engine damage that could result from MMT’s use in cars.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refused to approve MMT for sale based on health concerns, in December the agency was compelled to allow the Ethyl Corporation of Richmond, VA, to start selling MMT, known commercially as HiTec3000, after a court ruled that the agency lacked authority to consider health effects before registering the additive. Ethyl was a leading manufacturer of leaded gasoline additives for decades.
“Ethyl’s action amounts to an uncontrolled toxic experiment on the US population,” said Karen Florini, an EDF attorney. “Consumers should not be used as guinea pigs in testing the effects of long-term exposure to this known neurotoxin. Ethyl’s inability to accurately assess the public health consequences of their gas additives is amply demonstrated by their insistence for many years that leaded gasoline was safe.” The last step of the US ban on lead in gasoline took effect on December 31, 1995.
“In 1925, despite protests from the public health community, Ethyl began selling lead additives for gasoline, with devastating results for the nation’s health,” said EDF senior toxicologist Dr. Ellen Silbergeld. “Now, 70 years later, Ethyl is using the same arguments to sell MMT without first obtaining adequate toxicity information.”