ENVIRONMENT: SUMMER PETROL INTRODUCED TO CURB OZONE BUILD-UP


By Senthil Ratnasabapathy
   VIENNA, June 3 (IPS) -- Austrian drivers are being asked to do
their bit for the environment by buying a special kind of petrol
this summer to reduce the build-up of ozone levels near the ground.
   The "summer petrol" will contain less volatile organic compounds
(VOC), says the federal Environment Minister Martin Bartenstein,
and will cost drivers an extra two percent.
   Unleaded petrol here costs up to 11.30 Austrian shillings (a
little more than $1) per liter, marginally higher than neighboring
Germany and almost 40 percent more than Hungary and the Czech
republic where petrol costs the equivalent of 80 cents.
   The reason for introducing summer petrol is the increase of
tropospheric ozone concentrations during the summer months, say 
ministry officials.
   The ozone layer in the stratosphere, a 35 kilometer thick layer
starting 15 kilometers above the earth, checks ultra-violet rays
emitted by the sun which, if allowed to reach the earth, causes
skin cancer in humans and a variety of other harmful effects.
   On the other hand, the ozone in the troposphere, the layer just
below the stratosphere, is a very powerful greenhouse gas -- 2,000
times more powerful than the carbon dioxide (CO2) -- which traps
the ultra-violet rays that get through. It is formed from nitrogen
oxides (NOx) and hydro carbons (HC) under the influence of the
sunlight.
   The summer petrol -- the first of its kind in Europe -- will
have some changes in its chemical structure, Bartenstein said,
including an 80 percent decrease in sulphur content.
   The environment ministry is also urging the concentration of
benzene to be reduced from the present three to two percent.
Benzene, a colorless aromatic compound, is also a hydro-carbon and
scientists claim it is a carcinogen -- that is, it can cause
cancer.
   The steam pressure of the petrol is to be reduced by about 15
percent. According to the Federal Environmental Authority, a 15
percent reduction in the pressure will reduce the VOC emissions by
about 20 percent.
   Initially the petrol would be introduced in 100 petrol stations,
roughly one third of the stations in Vienna. If people are
enthusiastic, ministry officials say they will extend the program
to more petrol stations next year.
   "The pilot project is aimed at testing the acceptance of this
new petrol among auto drivers. If there appears to be a general
acceptance, then next year we will try for a countrywide coverage,"
says Bartenstein.
   In the United States, all major cities that have a surface ozone
problem, such as Los Angeles, were required to sell Reform Related
Gasoline (RRG) as of last year.
   An official at the Austrian federal environment authority says,
RRG now accounts for 30 percent of U.S. petrol consumption.
   But environmentalists say that the Austrian scheme does not go
far enough because it will only reduce tropospheric ozone by
between one and three percent.
   Instead of introducing it just during the summer months of June,
July and August, the petrol should be available throughout the
year, says Mattias Schichhofer, the transport affairs spokesman of
the international environmental organization, Greenpeace.
   Greenpeace also advocates a reduction in the total volume of
vehicular traffic. A recent report of the organization says the
construction of new roads and highways result in more traffic. The
average Austrian today drives 14,000 kilometers a year and the
trend is increasing.