09 July 2009

On Petrol Sniffing

Short Update

It's been some time since I posted an update on this blog. In that time (roughly one month), crude oil has dropped slightly. Today's OPEC price basket shows that the daily basket price of crude oil is USD61.11. This was from a high of USD69.56 on 30/5/2009. It may be noted that July 2009 is the one year anniversary of the spike in the oil price around the world. In July 2008, the basket price of crude oil was USD131.22 per barrel.

Newspapers are still getting excited about RON95 making its debut in September 2009. (Please refer to Know Your RON by Hong Boon How, published by the Star on 5th July 2009.) Petronas began offering RON95 at the Kepong area, making the petrol station the third in this nation to offer RON95. Petronas states that by the time RON95 is launched in September, more people would have switched to RON95 -- judging from the strong response of the public. (I may be mistaken, but I thought that RON95 was meant to phase out RON92 entirely.) (Pls ref: RON95 pumps up popularity among motorists dated 2nd July 2009, published by the Star)

Petrol Sniffing

On to the topic of the day -- petrol sniffing. "Petrol sniffing" is a form of substance abuse. I wish to quote from chapter 1, volume 2 of the Bush Book published by the Northern Territories Government of Australia.

Petrol is an organic substance derived from crude oil found underground. It contains a mixture of volatile, toxic hydrocarbons. Tetraethyl lead is commonly added to petrol during processing.

Petrol sniffing is a form of substance misuse. Petrol sniffers deliberately inhale the petrol fumes given off for the intoxicating effect. They hold a saturated cloth over their nose and mouth or sniff directly from a small container. Intoxication can be rapid, within one to five minutes. Depending on the method, the effects may last for minutes or several hours. Young people also sniff other substances such as glue, photocopier fluid, aerosols, paint thinner, cleaning and lighter fluids.

What are the effects of sniffing petrol? For the most part, they are harmful, and we are warned that sniffing petrol can cause "pneumonia, asphyxiation, burns, coma, seizures, malnutrition, permanent brain damage, injuries and sudden death". In women, it may cause deformation and/or death of the baby, even if the woman has stopped sniffing petrol once she has found out that she is pregnant.

The Long Term Health Effects of Petrol Sniffing

Australian Position

In Australia, the Aboriginal people were first recorded sniffing petrol as early as 1951. The NT website states:

In Australia between 1981-1991, there were 60 Aboriginal males and 3 Aboriginal females whose deaths were associated with petrol sniffing. They ranged in age from 11 to 32. The causes of death included pneumonia, cardiac failure/arrest, aspiration and burns. Twenty of these deaths were people who either lived in the NT or who were treated in NT hospitals (Brady 1995c:4;6-7).

The government of Northern Territories of Australia, recognising this danger, has promulgated laws to prevent the abuse of the substance:

In the NT, under section 18 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1993, it is illegal to sell or supply petrol to anyone when it is known or should be known that the person will use it as a drug or supply it to someone else to use as a drug.

A project known as the Mt Theo project succeeded in reducing petrol sniffing amongst young Aboriginal people. Read about it here (Report: Stopping Petrol Sniffing in Remote Aboriginal Communities: Key Factors in the Success of the Mt Theo Program.)

Malaysian Situation

On the Malaysian side, it seems that sniffing petrol is not an offence. In a report Glue-sniffing is soon an offence by the Sabahan newspaper, Daily Express, it was stated:

Papar: There is no law as yet to stop people from sniffing glue, thinner or inhaling the fumes of petrol and even cow dung. However, exposure to such substances can endanger one's health, the National Anti-Drug Agency' assistant officer here, Mohd Azlan Sulaiman, said Tuesday. Only glue-sniffing is presently in the process of being classified as an offence under the law, he revealed.

It must be noted that as early as 2003, Malaysia's National Anti-Drug Agency had already recommended that petrol and glue sniffing should be made illegal. (Ref: Rehab for youths who sniff glue and petrol, dated 16th August 2003)

Solution: OPAL Fuel?

In Australia, one solution that has the support of the government is the increased use of OPAL fuel, especially in Aboriginal communities. OPAL fuel does not give a high to the sniffer if it is sniffed. From the Australian Dept. of Health & Ageing website:

  • Opal is an unleaded petrol which exceeds all of the national standards for regular unleaded petrol and can be used in all applications requiring regular unleaded petrol, including two- and four-stroke engines, meaning it is safe for use in your outboards, passenger vehicles, petrol 4WDs and vans. Opal is also safe to put with your tank of regular unleaded when you fill up.

  • Opal has already been in use over the past 12 months in selected communities throughout Australia.

  • An independent toxicologist assessed how Opal compared to other types of fuel and determined that although all fuels are potentially toxic, Opal is the least toxic in terms of chronic exposure.

  • Opal is better for the environment. Tailpipe emissions from a vehicle running on Opal were equal to or less than those from a vehicle running on regular unleaded.

  • Opal delivers a performance for your car that is equivalent to regular unleaded. Fuel economy variation between a vehicle running on Opal versus regular unleaded is no more than 0.3 litres per 100km - well within the normal variation between petrol blends in the marketplace.

Perhaps it's time that Malaysia looked into the whole question of OPAL fuel?

Here are some promotional pictures, found at the picture sharing site, Flickr --- that should convey the idea to the reader.