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Unleaded Gasoline in Bangladesh: an Overnight Success
Bangladesh marks one year anniversary of going "lead free"

Unleaded Gasoline in Bangladesh: an Overnight Success
Bangladesh marks one year anniversary of going "lead free"

July 6, 2000—Just one year ago, on July 1, 1999, the government of Bangladesh made the landmark decision to provide only unleaded gasoline. According to Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC), recent measurements carried out in Bangladesh's Eastern Refinery Limited (ERL) laboratory have confirmed that gasoline dispensed at pumps in Bangladesh is now free of lead.

Bangladesh's Atomic Energy Commission also carried out tests of gasoline dispensed at the pumps in greater Dhaka city, and found that lead level is within acceptable limit. By going lead-free virtually overnight, Bangladesh has become a model for other countries in the developing world that are working to eliminate the harmful pollutant from gasoline.

Lead is a major environmental health hazard. Exposure to even low levels has been found to have adverse impact on public health, and particularly on the intellectual development of children, according to the World Bank, which has been providing technical assistance to the government of Bangladesh and other countries on the lead phase-out issue.

Bangladesh joins the ranks of countries such as the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Thailand that have taken aggressive steps to combat lead poisoning, which has resulted in significant health and economic benefits in these countries. In other countries, mainly in the developing world, however, action has been slower and sporadic.

The problem of lead pollution in the capital city Dhaka was identified as early as 1980. However, little data was available until 1991 when high levels of lead in samples of suspended particles in air were reported. The chemical analysis of the samples clearly identified the presence of lead and their gasoline origin.

In 1995 the need to address lead pollution was raised by environmental and health advocates and international organizations such as the Bank and the International Atomic Energy. The issue received considerable attention in seminars, symposia, and the press. The options for introducing unleaded gasoline were discussed with ERL, the country's only oil refining company wholly owned by the government, BPC, and the three oil marketing companies.

Heightened awareness of the dangers of lead pollution prompted the agencies concerned with the production and marketing of petroleum products and the Ministry of Energy to begin taking action. By 1997, lead content was reduced from 0.8 g/liter in the 1980s to an average of 0.4 g/liter by blending locally refined leaded gasoline with imported unleaded gasoline.

In 1998, low octane gasoline was made lead free, but high octane gasoline still contained 0.4 g/liter of lead. The increasing share of unleaded gasoline was achieved by importing only high-octane unleaded gasoline to make up for the difference between domestic supply and demand. Growing public pressure encouraged the National Environment Council to adopt a resolution to switch to unleaded gasoline in 1998, and subsequently the Ministry of Energy made the decision to go lead free last year.

"A large part of the lead poisoning problem can be attributed to the use of lead in gasoline. Significant reduction in human exposures to lead can be achieved cost-effectively by eliminating this hazard. The benefits of doing away with leaded gasoline are immediate and measurable, and far outweigh the costs," says World Bank Senior Environmental Engineer Jitendra Shah.

"As lessons from Bangladesh's experience demonstrate, conversion to unleaded gasoline could, in principle, be carried out rapidly if countries committed themselves to a comprehensive phase-out program. The recognition of the lead problem, and the necessary political commitment to do something about it, have decisive roles in any effective lead phase-out process, as Bangladesh has shown."

As a next step in assisting Bangladesh's efforts to improve air quality in urban areas, the Bank is supporting an Air Quality Management Project (AQMP), which seeks to enable the government to build its institutional capacity to undertake air pollution control activities initially in the capital city of Dhaka. AQMP will also supplement the Bank-financed Dhaka Urban Transport Project in meeting its environmental objective of reducing the city's air pollution. Finally, AQMP will encourage the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, the Department of Environment, and others to work together in dealing with vehicular pollution in urban areas of Bangladesh.

For more on the Bank's work on the environment, visit

Helpful links:
For more on Bangladesh's Health Sector, click here
For the recent study of Bangladesh's health sector, click here
To find out more about the Bank's work in Bangladesh, click here.

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