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`Vehicle emissions largest source of lead exposure'

Vinson Kurian

Thiruvananthapuram , June 15

LEAD is a cumulative neurotoxin that impairs brain development among children, but that hasn't prevented at least 43 per cent of the countries, for which data was available, from continuing to use leaded gasoline as transport fuel.

This has fuelled grave fears of threat to public health in these countries, mostly developing, according to Mr N.T. Nair, Vice-President, (R&D), CMS Computers, Thiruvananthapuram.

Addressing an invited audience at a weekly talk programme on `Roads, cars and technologies' hosted here by the Kerala State Centre of the Institution of Engineers, he said lead had variously been connected to elevated blood pressure and hypertension, heart attacks and premature death in adults. Emissions from vehicles were the largest source of lead exposure in many countries.

Automobiles were responsible for severe air pollution and wasted energy. These problems impacted people all over the world, both motorists and non-motorists alike, by affecting their health, economies, and communities.

Transportation of all types accounted for more than 25 per cent of the world's commercial energy use, and motor vehicles accounted for nearly 80 per cent of that. The world used over a trillion litres of motor gas in 1995. And the US accounted for as much as 46 per cent.

Giving a low-down on the numbers in Kerala, Mr Nair said there were close to 26 lakh vehicles plying on the State's roads. A break-up revealed that two-wheelers numbered around 15 lakh, cars 3.5 lakh, autorickshaws 2.85 lakh and taxis, 88,000. The two-wheeler population was growing by leaps and bounds, and accounted for 57 per cent of the total number of vehicles on roads.

Total car emissions were contributing to an overall warming of the entire planet, which could lead to the destruction of the world's food chain. Cars emit carbon dioxide (CO2), a heat-trapping gas. Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 had increased by 30 per cent since pre-industrial times, and much of that is being attributed to burning of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels are fast depleting and costs will therefore continue to soar. Going forward, automobile production would rise if only because of economic considerations, mostly of governments. Cars running on fuel cells are at least a decade away. Cost of ownership would have only one way to go - which is up. The emerging situation will call for the establishment of an efficient public transport system, which is easier said than done.

The need of the hour was to create as many `green waves' as possible to clear off more vehicles. Vehicle sensors on roads and cameras scanning vehicles interoperate with computers to optimise green signals in order that speed of traffic flow is revised upwards. Electronic road pricing and automatic toll collection also lead to better utilisation of roads. The Global Positioning System (GPS), a satellite based technology, was yet another enabling application.

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`Vehicle emissions largest source of lead exposure'

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