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    A joint research proposal to the European Commission in the framework of:
    Theme: II. Environmental Technologies
    Area: 2.2. Technologies and methods for assessing risks to and protecting and rehabiliting the environment (2.2.1)



    In the European Union (EU) all new cars registered from 1st January 1993 have been fitted with catalytic converters to reduce hazardous emissions below the legislated level. Platinum (Pt), Rhodium (Rh) and Palladium (Pd), the platinum group elements (PGEs), are the main active components of these three-way catalysts. There is now overwhelming evidence that the urban environment is contaminated by these elements which are released into the environment adsorbed on small particles as a result of surface abrasion of catalytic converters during car operation.

    The current concern is whether the emitted platinum and PGEs are toxic for living organisms and human beings. It is know that most frequent and soluble platinum complexes, such as the hexachloroplatinate (IV), tetrachloroplatinate (II), etc. are among the most potent allergenics and sensitisers known. Occupational asthma, rhinitis, conjunctivitis and chronic dermatitis and eczema are common diseases in workers at platinum refineries and catalyst production plants.

    This project is planned to ascertain the health and ecosystem risks of Pt and PGEs emitted by catalyst in the EU, through the following objectives:

    1st Objective. To study the pathway of Pt (and PGEs) from the automobile catalyst to the environment. Two different approaches will be taken in this study: a) Research focusing on the catalyst will study surface abrasion as a function of working time and the stress to which it has been subjected. b) Research focusing on Pt (and PGES) release by the catalyst.

    2nd Objective. To study the Pt (and PGES) contamination of different potentially polluted and unpolluted areas of representative European Countries, by analysing different samples of airborne particulate matter, road sediments and gullypot water collected under an established protocol, to give a general idea of PGES levels in the different environmental compartments across the EU.

    3rd Objective. To investigate the bioaccumulation and toxicity of environmental Pt and other PGEs in human and exposed organisms as a method for estimating and managing risks to the environment and to human. Micro-organisms, aquatic macro-invertebrates, plants and human urine will be the samples studied.

    These strategies will allow:

    1) Monitoring and assessment of the environmental Pt, Rh and Pd concentration changes in Europe as a consequence of human activities in the transport sector that have a direct influence on living organisms and human health.

    2) The establishment of a network from North (Sweden, UK) to South (Spain, Italy) at the European level through the involvement of research scientists in the UK, Spain, Sweden, Italy and Germany and industrial partners in Spain and Sweden, to anticipate and measure the potential future problem due to increasing PGES emissions.

    3) The development of new methodologies, and apply the already existing ones of field sampling, surface analysis, sample treatment and new sensitive instrumentation, to ascertain the possible fate of these precious metals in the environment.

    4) The assessment of the bioacummulation and toxicity of Pt (and PGEs) at the new environmental concentrations in exposed organisms.

    5) A contribution to the implementation of a new societal policy which addresses and establishes emission limits for these new and potentially hazardous contaminants.

    6) The prevention of the loss of a valuable resource into the urban environment. This is a particular concern for the European automotive industry who wish to effectively recycle these precious metals.


    Participating Institutions and Responsible Persons:      (Click for phone, fax, e-mail & addresses)

    Partner 1: Universidad Complutense de Madrid (ES).
    Dpto. Química Analítica, Facultad de Químicas
    Responsible: Dr. María A. Palacios Corvillo

    Partner 2. Chalmers University of Technology Goteborg (SE).
    Dept. Sanitary Engineering
    Responsible: Prof. Gregory Morrison

    Partner 3. University of Sheffield. (GB).
    Dept. of Earth Sciences
    Responsible: Professor Cameron McLeod

    Partner 4. Universidad de Malaga. (ES).
    Dpto. Química Analítica, Facultad de Ciencias
    Responsible: Prof. J. Javier Laserna Vázquez

    Partner 5. Instituto Superiore di Sanitá. Rome (IT).
    Applied toxicology Department
    Responsible: Prof. Sergio Caroli

    Partner 6. GSF-Forschung. Neuherberg (DE).
    GSF, Ingolstadler
    Responsible: Prof. Peter Schramel

    Partner 7. Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial. (ES).
    Centro de Experimentación y Homologación de vehículos
    Responsible: Ing.Dr. Jose Carlos Saenz

    Partner 8. FORD Iberia. (ES).
    Dpto. de Homologación de Vehiculos. Madrid
    Responsible: Ing. Manuel Luna

    Partner 9. KM-MILJOTEKNIK (SE).
    KM International AB Goteborg
    Responsible: Dr. Catharina Pettersson

    Partner 10. Council of Madrid. (ES).
    Dpto. Contaminación Atmosférica
    Responsible: Dr. J. Luis Sanchez Antón

    Partner 11. VOLVO (SE).
    AB Volvo Goteborg
    Responsible: Dr. Urban Wass

    Partner 12. SEAT Hispania (ES).
    Experimentación de Motor, Laboratorio de Motorpropulsores, Martorel.
    Responsible: Ing. Felipe Cruz


    For further information mail to:

    Prof. María A. Palacios Corvillo, (e-mail:

    Universidad Complutense
    Dpto. Química Analítica, Facultad de Ciencias Químicas
    Ciudad Universitaria, s/n.
    28040 - Madrid - (Spain)
    Fax : +34-913 944 329

    Last update: April 21, 1998, by F.J.A.

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