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Unleashing the truth about hazardous gasoline additive MMT.

Fuel is an essential component that aids in the running and growth of every industry as well as every business. In Pakistan, the fuel prices are extremely volatile and a common man hardly possesses knowledge in regards to the hazardous metal additives being used in the production of gasoline. Therefore, it's time people are exposed to the controversial gasoline additive MMT so that their misconceptions are cleared and they get a better picture as to how these metals are gradually impacting the environment as well as their health.

What it means to have metals in your fuel?

We Pakistani's generally equate fuel quality with octane levels (RON rating), whereas in reality metal such as Methylcyclopentadienyl Manganese Tricarbony (MMT) is only added to the fuel in order to artificially boost the level of octane. This leads to the achievement of the desired octane level at the cost of a high MMT percentage being present in fuels. On average a single drop of MMT in a litre of fuel can increase the octane number by two. The octane rating of petrol tells us about the stability of fuel against premature ignition under load that is compression in case of an engine.

To get this resistance, oil refineries in Pakistan add various additives during the production of the fuel. This artificially raises the octane level (RON) but heavily compromises on the fuel quality, which eventually damages the car engine and the environment. When lead-based additives went out of business, the producers started looking for an alternative. Hence, MMT turned out to be a cheap way to boost the octane number as mixing was not a very complicated process at the refineries.

After raising concerns about the potential toxicity of such additives in the fuel and declaration of MMT being 'a hazardous air pollutant and a serious neurotoxin' by the WHO, various actions and policies were implemented. There is zero metal in gasoline worldwide, even in regional countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Oman and Vietnam; except a few countries where metal is used but the quantities are inconsequential. In Pakistan, Shell has been raising awareness in regards to octane boosting additives such as MMT because these manganese-based additives not only are causing harm to the engine components, but are severely hurting the overall performances of the vehicles as well.

MMT threatening human life and environment

Experts on the environment and health at one time started voicing their opinions when they found out that high concentration of manganese was being released into the air. But how so? The simple answer is that when gasoline is burning in the engine and gasses are being released from the tailpipe, these additive release manganese particles in the atmosphere. Research has shown that it is also known to cause various respiratory diseases and can also cause a damage to the brain. The metal deposit and emission from the tailpipe is sheer toxic and 'undeniably a serious health hazard causing a number of bronchial, neurological and systemic diseases.

MMT can enter the body by being swallowed, breathed or through skin contact. But when humans inhale a manganese-rich air, it enters the lungs and then gets absorbed into the bloodstream at a faster rate. Besides that, it also results in neurological disorders, especially amongst children. It starts to accumulate in various regions of the brain and as a result it affects motor skills, emotions, learning abilities and may lead to neurological diseases such as Parkinson's in the future. Some reproductive issues have also been related to the higher concentration of manganese and its compounds found in the atmosphere overtime.


MMT is highly toxic for humans as well as animals. Signs of MMT poisoning in the short term include giddiness, headache, nausea, chest tightness and breathing difficulties. Animal studies show that long-term exposure to MMT results in damage to the liver and kidneys. It can also cause mild skin and eye irritation and an accidental ingestion by a child of concentrated MMT in aftermarket fuel additives may be fatal. Moreover, It is highly lethal to aquatic animals also and it shouldn't be released into the storm water, sewers or natural waterways.

Effects of MMT on automobiles

From a technical standpoint, the manganese compromises engine performance in the long run, chokes catalytic converter of the vehicle and aggravates pollution level by not converting unsafe substances of the exhaust. Automakers have released various studies which show that these manganese-based additives are harming engine components as well emission system and severely hurt the overall performance of the vehicle. Due to blockage of the catalyst within catalytic converter back pressure increases resulting in a wide variety of mechanical and performance issues.


The oxidized manganese gets attached to all the exposed surfaces of the engine which includes spark plugs and oxygen sensors thus reducing their efficiency and premature failure. Misfiring spark plugs is common phenomena due to these additives which result in unwanted emissions in the shape of unburnt hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. These additives also affect the working of the oxygen sensor which is part of the emission system.

What can be done?

There is no doubt that Pakistan has failed to understand this fact however, it is high time that we now understand the potential dangers and act accordingly. Shell is one of the socially responsible brands that not only prioritises on the health of its customers, but also cares about the environmental hazards. With more than a century of experience in fuels development, Shell develops world-class products that meet the evolving needs of customers and their cars. It takes pride in developing high octane fuels without metal additives that are more resistant to auto-ignition (knock) in gasoline engines. The Oil company offers differentiated high RON fuel formulated with an engine cleaning detergent that results in higher engine efficiencies and better performance.

Recently, the Petroleum Division directed OGRA, Hydrocarbon Development Institute of Pakistan (HDIP) and Oil Companies Advisory Council (OCAC) specified that from Nov 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019 the level of manganese content should be brought down to 24mg per litre (maximum). Additionally, all involved parties, Government, regulating agencies, scientific laboratories, environmental experts, automakers as well as refineries and oil marketing companies in Pakistan should sit together and make necessary arrangements to understand the implications of the MMT usage. Refineries and government must ensure that public health is protected as well as newer technologies for emission control systems in vehicles are not negatively affected by their products.
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Publication:The Express Tribune (Karachi, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jan 30, 2019
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