US Clean Air Act is Amended to Ban the Sale of Leaded Fuel for Use in On-Road Vehicles
The mixture known as gasoline, when used in high compression internal combustion engines, has a tendency to autoignite (detonation) causing a damaging "engine knocking" (also called "pinging" or "pinking") noise.
Early research into this effect was led by A.H. Gibson and Harry Ricardo in England and Thomas Midgley and Thomas Boyd in the United States. The discovery that lead additives modified this behavior led to the widespread adoption of their use in the 1920s and therefore more powerful higher compression engines. The most popular additive was tetra-ethyl lead. However, with the discovery of the environmental and health damage caused by the lead, and the incompatibility of lead with catalytic converters found on virtually all newly sold US automobiles since 1975, this practice began to wane (encouraged by many governments introducing differential tax rates) in the 1980s. Most countries are phasing out leaded fuel; different additives have replaced the lead compounds. The most popular additives include aromatic hydrocarbons, ethers and alcohol (usually ethanol or methanol). In the US, where lead had been blended with gasoline (primarily to boost octane levels) since the early 1920s, standards to phase out leaded gasoline were first implemented in 1973 - due in great part to studies conducted by Philip J. Landrigan. In 1995, leaded fuel accounted for only 0.6% of total gasoline sales and less than 2000 short tons (1814 t) of lead per year. From 1 January 1996, the Clean Air Act banned the sale of leaded fuel for use in on-road vehicles. Possession and use of leaded gasoline in a regular on-road vehicle now carries a maximum $10,000 fine in the US. However, fuel containing lead may continue to be sold for off-road uses, including aircraft, racing cars, farm equipment, and marine engines. The ban on leaded gasoline led to thousands of tons of lead not being released in the air by automobiles. Similar bans in other countries have resulted in lowering levels of lead in people's bloodstreams.
A side effect of the lead additives was protection of the valve seats from erosion. Many classic cars' engines have needed modification to use lead-free fuels since leaded fuels became unavailable. However, "Lead substitute" products are also produced and can sometimes be found at auto parts stores. These were scientifically tested and some were approved by the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs at the UK's Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) in 1999.
In some parts of South America, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, leaded gasoline is still in use. Leaded gasoline was phased out in sub-Saharan Africa effective 1 January 2006. A growing number of countries have drawn up plans to ban leaded gasoline in the near future. However, in Britain there is now a growing market for using Four Star leaded petrol in classic cars and motorcycles because of detonation and valve seat erosion. A sole petroleum wholesaler, the Bayford Group, is EU-licenced to distribute the leaded fuel and it is sold at select outlets around the UK. Not all counties are covered and the fuel costs approximately twice that of unleaded petrol.
Effective January 1, 1996, the Clean Air Act banned the sale of the small amount of leaded fuel that was still available in some parts of the country for use in on-road vehicles. EPA said fuel containing lead may continue to be sold for off-road uses, including aircraft, racing cars, farm equipment, and marine engines.