Ten West European countries are preparing to tackle the problem of removing lead from motor fuel and seem likely to set 1990 as the target date for phasing out this poisonous pollutant.
The stimulus for the move is coming from Britain which decided earlier this year to introduce lead-free petrol, starting, it is hoped, in 1987.
British ministers attending a June meeting of the European Community in Brussels will call on the nine other member nations to pass laws progressively banning lead from motor fuel.
Officials in London anticipate initial resistance from France and Italy where high-octane motor fuel is still widely used. Two years ago, Britain decided to require oil companies to reduce the amount of lead in motor fuel by two-thirds. The decision to phase out lead altogether caught the oil industry unaware.
Unleaded fuel is now available in the United States, Japan, and Australia, where the goal is to eliminate lead from petrol completely. In the US at present 48 percent of the gasoline burned in cars is leaded. By 1990 the figure is expected to be 19 percent.
The Royal Commission on Lead Pollution estimated that 7,000 tons of lead were pumped into the British air each year by car exhausts.
Britain's objective at Brussels will be to obtain the endorsement of the European Council to begin eliminating leaded petrol. If the council so decides, all member governments will be obliged to comply with Brussels directives.
According to one official estimate it will cost a motorist traveling 10,000 miles a year an extra (STR)10 ($15) to burn unleaded fuel.
British motor manufacturers believe that modifying engines for new cars to be able to burn unleaded petrol will cost direct investments of between $160 million to $560 million, depending on timescales. The extra cost for each new car is put at between $64 and $96.