Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet
Getting the Lead Out in Honduras

Sierra Club Helps Local Group Aire Puro Clear the Air

Thanks in part to assistance from the Sierra Club's International Program to a new Honduran environmental group - Aire Puro (Pure Air) - Honduras eliminated lead from its gasoline in February.

Because lead can cause developmental problems in children and blood disorders in adults, its use as a cheap additive to increase gasoline performance was phased out in the United States over the last two decades. While other nations followed suit, many developing countries have yet to convert to cleaner burning fuels.

Until Honduras eliminated leaded gas, there was no country in the world with a higher concentration of lead per gallon of gasoline. In some parts of the capital, lead levels in the atmosphere exceeded international standards by 500 percent and lead concentrations in blood were rising, especially among children.

The Honduran government had promised to introduce unleaded gasoline in 1993, but oil companies and the Ministry of Economy became locked in an impasse over gasoline price policy.

In 1994, Aire Puro began a public campaign to break the deadlock. Advised by Sierra Club member Baird Straughan, who lives in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, and with timely counsel from other Club leaders, Aire Puro mounted a grassroots campaign to accelerate the lagging transition from leaded gasoline.

Using Sierra Club publications like "What You Can Do to Save Your Neighborhood, City or Town" and "Conservation Action" from the Organizer's Library, the group used the tried and true Sierra Club tactics of gathering signatures, briefing the press, lobbying decision makers, gaining spokespeople and staging public events - including an offer of a ticket to a rock concert as a prize for the best letter to the economic minister. When the minister finally announced approval for imports of unleaded gasoline, he publicly thanked Aire Puro "for the pressure."

"There are almost no grassroots advocacy organizations like the Sierra Club in Latin America," said Straughan. "So there's often no political will to make the hard decisions that environmental protection entails."

He did emphasize, however, that the success of Aire Puro to buck that trend proves there is a growing need for Club activists' skills beyond North America. For example, Aire Puro received key pointers in the art of lobbying from International Program Director Larry Williams and other Club members via the Internet.

"Our grassroots organizing skills are very much in demand," said Williams. "The Internet makes it possible to give technical assistance to new organizations over long distances and at little cost."

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