Petrol (Lead Content)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th April 1976.

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Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham, Erdington 12:00 am, 5th April 1976

I entirely agree. I do not want to be alarmist about this. I have gone through the matter with my constitutents. What the joint working party has said is that the increase in the Gravelly Hill area is not different from that in any other central urban area which has a high traffic flow. None the less, the lead content is different from that in rural areas and other parts of Birmingham where there is not such a heavy traffic flow. I do not suggest that the Gravelly Hill figures show an exceptional increase. They show an increase which is statistically significant and which is up to the level found in other central urban areas with high traffic flows.

I do not make any special plea for Gravelly Hill. The danger is the same in all urban areas which have a heavy traffic flow. It is true that we are not talking of clinical poisoning where the symptoms are marked and quite easy to distinguish. Such poisoning results in many fatalities. There is, however, sufficient prima facie evidence that there are certain dangers. It seems reasonable to assume, if we are dumping 11,000 tons of lead into the atmosphere every year, that it is likely to put a strain upon people's health and produce certain symptoms. Many specialists agree.

I do not suggest that the evidence is 100 per cent, conclusive. There are difficulties in statistics and sampling. For instance, in Gravelly Hill there were variations. The average blood-lead content among children was 12 to 16 milligrammes per 100 litres. Some of my constituents showed a level of 30 to 35 milligrammes per litre, which approaches the danger point of clinical poisoning. It is no good telling a person with that level that it is merely a quirk. He takes it as being a serious health risk.

Although the evidence is not conclusive, we cannot wait to introduce these measures until the matter is proved after many years of precise examination and statistics. I suggest that the country should follow the approach which has already been taken by Germany and by America after the evidence of the Environment Protection Agency to reduce the lead levels as far as possible in a modest way. There is nothing unrealistic about the proposition that the amount of lead should be reduced to 0·40 grammes in the next two or three years. That does not go as far as Germany and America have gone. That is a realistic proposition which the House should accept while the conclusions are finalised. We should not wait several years until perhaps it is too late to prevent health being affected by these emissions.