Cablegate: Sri Lanka Significantly Improves Air Quality

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O 12958:N/A

1. Summary: Preliminary studies show a significant
reduction in Colombo's ambient air lead levels after
phasing out leaded gasoline in June, 2002. The
Government will further improve urban air quality by
introducing new vehicle emission and fuel quality
standards. End Summary.


2. Leaded gasoline had been a growing source of
ambient air pollution in Sri Lanka's urban areas. By
2001, Sri Lanka was burning 244,000 metric tons of
leaded gasoline. According to estimates, 50% of the
gasoline in Sri Lanka was consumed in Colombo,
releasing approximately 25 tons of lead into the
atmosphere annually. As a result, lead pollution was
a major health concern, with studies indicating high
blood lead levels in Colombo residents compared to
those in rural areas.

3. Implementation of existing air quality management
laws and regulations was very slow, until recently.
Lead-free gasoline was introduced in 1997 with a
planned total phase-out by 2005. Under the current
government, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC)
accelerated the plan by discontinuing the production
and sale of leaded gasoline in mid-2002. Although no
detailed statistical analyses are available, a study
sponsored by the USAID/US-Asia Environmental
Partnership Program (US-AEP) showed ambient lead
levels have dropped 80% six months after phasing out
lead in gasoline.

4. Measures of particulate lead, from vehicle
emissions and roads, burning of garbage, industrial
emissions and soil, also show a declining trend when
compared with historical data. More importantly,
according to preliminary studies, introduction of
unleaded gasoline has contributed to a marked (86%)
reduction in blood lead levels in traffic policemen.
This indicates the magnitude of the health impact and
the benefits of the lead reduction program.


5. In order to facilitate the air quality management
programs, an Air Quality Management Center (AirMac)
was formed in November 2001 under the Ministry of
Environment and Natural Resources. Since then AirMac
has been instrumental in improving stakeholder
participation. The present focus of the AirMac is on
an accelerated program to implement emission
standards in January 2004 and developing a Clean Air
2005 action plan. World Bank and USAID/US-AEP are
the two major donors helping Sri Lanka air quality
improvement programs.

6. A recent World Bank sponsored study co-ordinated
by the AirMac found fine particulate matter as the
air pollutant of greatest concern in urban areas.
The high sulfur dioxide content, found mainly in
diesel fuel is directly related to particulate matter
level. Poor vehicle maintenance practices, lack of
vehicle testing programs, and the import of diesel
vehicles (due to a petroleum pricing policy favoring
diesel) have contributed to increased air pollution.
Emissions of smoke and soot from diesel vehicles, and
from petrol vehicles equipped with two stroke engines
(the ubiquitous trishaws), are believed to be among
the main sources of particulate matter emissions in
urban areas.

7. The GSL hopes to reduce these pollutants through
the new Clean Air 2005 action plan, which aims to
reduce vehicle emissions and improve fuel quality.
New emission standards will apply for all vehicles
from July 1, 2003. Euro II equivalent standards will
apply for imports. Less stringent emission standards
will apply for in use vehicles from July 1, 2003 with
the intention of moving towards Euro II and Euro III
standards by 2007 and 2010, respectively.
Arrangements to establish 200 vehicle-testing centers
throughout the country are underway. According to
Transport Ministry sources, annual mobile emission
certificates will be mandatory for all motor vehicles
beginning in January 2004. In addition, Sri Lanka is
considering banning the importation of two stroke

8. Also, new (Euro II equivalent) fuel quality
standards will apply from July 1, 2003 for gasoline.
Euro III standards will apply for gasoline in 2007.
Diesel standards (now at Euro I) will also be
improved gradually to Euro II and Euro III levels
between 2004 and 2007, allowing adequate time for the
CPC to launch fuel reformulation programs in its
refinery. The AirMac will launch an independent
auditing mechanism to monitor standards of fuel
available in the market. In addition, the GSL is
planning to launch a power plant emission-monitoring
program and to carry out health impact assessments
relating to air pollution.

9. US-AEP recently sponsored a fleet
characterization study to measure emissions. A
remote sensing measurement technology developed by
Environmental Systems Products, Tucson, AZ is being
used for this study. Results of this study will help
in deciding priority vehicle types, makes and years
of manufacture to phase in the emission standards in
January 2004. Understanding fleet characteristics is
necessary to implement vehicle testing with minimum
social and economic impediments for vehicle owners,
and to avoid a potential political backlash on the
air quality program.

10. Comment: This is a field in which the
combination of US and multilateral assistance with US
technology has generated measurable improvements in
the economy of Sri Lanka and the health of its
citizens. End Comment.


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