[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]

MMT Story



The MMT Story/ as published in ROOM Magazine, Windsor, ISSUE # 50 August 1998 
>---------------------------------------------------------------------------
-----
>Methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl (MMT) has for some time now
>been a controversial topic in the news. Before Bill C-29, the act that
>restricts interprovincial trade and importation of certain manganese-based
>substances, MMT had been used in Canadian cars since 1977. This substance
>acts as an octane enhancer in gasoline and was incorporated into our fuel
>supply in response to the lead ban that  came into effect in the 70's. MMT
>was designed to replace Tetraethyl lead (TEL) which also acted as an automobile
>engine enhancer. Not too surprisingly, both additives are manufactured and
sold by the same company, Ethyl Corporation. Readers will recognize the
>economic advantages of cornering a market with both primary and alternate
>fuel additives.
>
>The potential health issues related to manganese, the metal found in every
molecule of MMT, may be of particular concern considering that the metal is
suspected to be neurotoxic in humans at low doses, and over an extended
period of time. The predominant route of entry of manganese into the body,
based on the assumption that cars will release the neurotoxic compound into
our atmosphere, would appear to be academic. The arguements brought forward
by Ethyl Corporation seem to suggest that even a simple issue such as this
can be twisted by misinformation. They have maintained that the amount of
manganese which we receive in our diet far exceeds the potential increase of
the metal in the air. Thus, manganese emitted from car exhaust will result
in little to no effect on the population as a whole. 
>
>Ethyl Corporation's toxicologists should be able to acknowledge the fact
>that the rate and amount of manganese which we absorb through the
>gastrointestinal tract (dietary exposure) may be acutely different from the
>rate and amount absorbed by our respiratory systems (exposure through air
>pollution).  Yet Ethyl Corporation has continuously focused their
arguements on manganese resulting from dietary exposure. Admittedly,
manganese is
>an essential mineral in our diet but absorption of the metal through our lungs
>at low doses for an extended period is not the preferred method of
administration. 
>
>Research has indicated that chronic (long-term, low dose) inhalation
exposure to manganese may result in more serious effects than with acute
(short-term, higher doses) exposure. Chronically exposed patients exhibit
psychiatric problems
>characterized by irritability, difficulty in walking, speech disturbances,
>and compulsive behaviour. Continued exposure could result in a mask-like
appearance,  a Parkinson-like syndrome, and liver cirrhosis. These symptoms
have been observed in adult human patients, but have only been reproduced in
monkeys in the laboratory. Although rats exhibit higher levels of manganese
in the brain during testing, the neurobehavioural effects noted above were
absent.
>
>This information is readily available to anyone who wishes to research the
matter and prompts the question, ' why has Ethyl unabashedly continued to
>promote the use of their product in Canada without further testing?'
Perhaps it is because MMT represents half of Ethyl's sales in Canada and
that the elimination of their product would cause economic hardship for
their company. 
>At first, this situation does produce a sympathetic response toward those
>at the company, particularly Canadians, to whom such a loss would have a direct
>impact. Recall, however,  that Bill C-29 only restricted MMT's trade between
>provinces and importation into this country. If Ethyl were producing MMT in
>Canada and hiring Canadians for factory work, as well as managerial work, the
>company's argument about economic hardship would carry more weight in this
>country. However, American workers produce and package MMT and retain most
of the benefits of selling this product in Canada. 
>
>Interestingly, an alternative to MMT is ethanol.  Ethanol could result in
>plants established in Canada, run by Canadian workers, using grain grown in
>Canada, and money redistributed in the Canadian market, particularly at the
>local level.  This alternative appears to make better economic sense and
could benefit Canadians immensely, particularly since the product will be
used in Canadian cars.
>
>Ethyl Corporation has also maintained that Health Canada has deemed MMT
safe. A statement which may be difficult to prove or disprove since Health
Canada does not release its detailed findings or studies on a regular basis.
Health Canada generally evaluates compounds based on available and requested
information which is subject to a rigid set of experimental criteria. Most
testing is generally done on mice, rats, dogs, guinea pigs, etc., but not on
primates for obvious ethical and economic reasons. Recall that researchers
have only reproduced chronic manganese disorder in monkeys. Thus, if one
were looking for eurobehavioural effects, such as a Parkinson-like syndrome,
in a mouse, rat, or even a dog, one would not see anything in the laboratory
and risk the possibility that these effects would go unnoticed.  Since
Health Canada is not in a position to release the studies to the public, it
falls on Ethyl Corporation to disclose the information presented to Health
Canada for public consultation.  This is particularly important when
considering the concerns associated with long-term exposure (the
environment, public health, and political sovereignty).
>
>The most vulnerable populations in Canadian society, the young, the
>infirmed, and the elderly, may have been left on the fringes of the decision
>making process. Were the tests geared toward the safety of these populations
>or were the laboratory tests administered with strong, healthy adults in
>mind? Again, it is very difficult to comment without access to the company's 
>documents.
>
>Now comes the matter of politics, free trade agreements, and the
>Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). These facets of the decision
>process are very important, particularly when considering the issue of MMT. 
>The political philosophies concerning MMT contradict themselves. Sergio
>Marchi, ex-Minister of the Environment, claimed that he would not stand for
>the health of Canadians to be jeopardized because of the use of MMT in
>automobile fuel.  
>
>Automobile manufacturers have claimed that MMT interferes
>with the automobile computer systems that monitor tailpipe emissions,  which
>may be the main issue on which Bill C-29 rested, not the potential health
>problems from the additive itself. Mr. Marchi went on to reintroduce the
Bill into Parliament, which originally died on the order paper following
prorogation of  the House in 1996, and announced his commitment to public
health in various speeches in and outside the Commons. This prompted Ethyl
Corporation to sue the
>Government of Canada for their potential losses. This American company that
>is producing its product in the States and selling to its largest foreign
>market, Canada, sued us for its potential losses, approximately $350 Million
>Canadian. Ethyl claimed that under NAFTA, the Canadian decision breached
>three articles of the agreement. Therefore Ethyl claimed they were entitled
>to any money that may have resulted from potential sales in Canada.
>
>One would expect Mr. Marchi to condemn such an action.  Instead Mr. Marchi,
>now a Minister in an industrial related portfolio, expounds upon the virtues
>of multilateral agreements, in the interest of economic harmony. This is a
>bitter pill to swallow and brings into question the integrity of this
>minister and possibly other politicians as well. Mr. Marchi is supporting a
company producing a product in the United States for sale in Canada, despite
the potential health effects. When the Canadian government took steps,
reluctantly, to stop the importation MMT,  NAFTA took precedence over the
federal government's responsibility for the health and welfare of Canadians.
To add insults to injury, Canadians will pay the legal costs for such a
dubious decision which will amount to approximately $20 Million.
>
>When the interests of foreign corporations are placed ahead of the health
>and safety of Canadians, it is time to renegotiate the NAFTA. Ethyl
>Corporation's lawsuit is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, other
>rapacious interests will follow suit, when Canada attempts to decide what
is in its own best interests.
>
>Patty Green 
>
>is a  Toxicological Consultant to the Citizens Environment Alliance of SW ON
>and lives in Ottawa, Ontario
*********************************************
Windsor & Area Social Justice & Ecological Network
PO Box 548, Windsor, ON  N9A 6M6
Voice:  519-973-1116  Fax 519-973-8360
E-mail:  riccawu@mnsi  (GreenPlanet)
web page: http://www.mnsi.net/~cea
**********************************************