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Environment Canada's Gasoline Regulations: A discussion paper on the potential extension of the exemption for leaded gasoline used in competition vehicles

Health Considerations

The Gasoline Regulations were put in place to minimize the risks of exposure to lead. Health Canada advises that lead can cause neurocognitive effects in sensitive populations (infants and children) at blood levels below 10 µg/dL.5 The controls on lead in gasoline have decreased airborne lead concentrations which, in turn, are thought to have resulted in reduced uptake and blood lead levels of Canadians.

In 1997, Environment Canada carried out a monitoring study for lead in ambient air and in soil at a drag strip and an oval racetrack. The data obtained were used by Health Canada to perform a risk assessment on exposure of spectators to lead. Health Canada found that the estimated lead intake for sensitive segments of the population (toddlers, adolescents, and pregnant women) was less than 50% of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake (PTWI) and concluded that weekly lead exposures at both the drag and oval tracks were acceptable.

In 2003, Health Canada updated its 1997 assessment of the estimated weekly lead intake for a toddler as a spectator.6 Volume data gathered under the regulations had indicated a 37 percent increase in the volume of leaded fuels imported for competition vehicles from 1998 to 2002. The reassessment assumed an equivalent 37 percent increase in lead emissions. Health Canada concluded that the risk was acceptable since the estimated weekly lead exposures remained within the tolerable intakes developed by the WHO.

Health Canada remains concerned over the exposure of spectators and nearby residents to lead emitted at race tracks. Recent health studies have lead to increased concern about the effects of lead exposures, especially among children. Intellectual and neurobehavioral effects are being detected at lower body lead burdens than were previously thought to be detrimental.

Import volume data received by Environment Canada under the regulations have shown increased volumes of leaded gasoline being imported for use in competition vehicles. Since the number of tracks has remained essentially constant over this period, it is likely that more events per tracks are taking place or more competitors are taking part in each event. In either case, the amount of lead being emitted at racetracks has increased in proportion to the increased in fuel being burned.

In 2006, Health Canada reviewed available information on the current use of leaded fuel in race cars including the US EPA's Air Quality Criteria for Lead (October 2006).7

Health Canada concluded that current research suggests that even low-level exposures to lead resulting in blood lead levels below 10µg/dL can affect neurobehavioral development in children, and given that the Canadian race car industry continues to grow, exposure to lead from competition vehicle emissions is deemed a significant contributor to overall lead exposure for people who live near to and/or attend racing car event, and is thus a cause for concern.


5 This is the current blood-lead intervention level, a benchmark level, used by Canadian physicians to determine when action should be taken to mitigate risk or harm in individuals once exposure has occurred (under review by Health Canada).

6 Toddlers were assessed since they were identified as the most susceptible receptors.

7 United States Environmental Protection Agency (2006), Air Quality Criteria for Lead