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Catalytic converters: A rush to health, environmental depletion

By Kundai Marunya

It takes less than 20 minutes for a car to be stripped of catalytic converters, a simple mechanic operation that leaves devastating effects on both the environment and human health.
A catalytic converter is a vehicle emissions control device that is used to reduce toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gas from an internal combustion engine into less-toxic pollutants by catalysing a redox reaction (an oxidation and a reduction reaction).
The device, which is rich in platinum, palladium, gold and other minerals, has a ready market in Zambia and South Africa where it fetches over US$100 per kilogramme.
Removing the device is, however, one of the leading causes of air pollution in the country with results being respiratory linked illnesses.
“The catalytic converter works by using a catalyst to create a chemical reaction in which gases are converted into less harmful gases,” said Environmental Management Agency (EMA) technician Patrick Chipfunde, in recent media reports.
“Vehicles without an emission control mechanism (catalytic converters) contribute to air pollution by producing nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.
“These pollutants contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The pollutants cause both short- and long-term effects on the environment. Vehicle emissions contribute significantly to global warming, acid rain and risk on human health.”
In recent years, Zimbabwe has been experiencing very high temperatures and heat waves, something experts say is due to global warming.
In the absence of operational industries and a rise in the number of motorists, most of whose catalytic converters have been removed either willingly or after being duped by mechanics during service, indicators point to vehicles as a major contributor.
Besides the obvious environmental and health impacts, alarm has been raised over the use of catalysts as drugs.
“You will be surprised what young people do to get high,” said Youth Against Drug Abuse (YADA) Harare Provincial coordinator Masimba Dhure.
“We recently learnt that the high demand of catalytic converters is because elements of their make-up are mixed with other drugs for a heavy dosage.”
Vehicle owners continue to ignore the effects of removing catalysts to health and the environment as their absence improves car performance.
According to a report by Automobile Association of Zimbabwe, cars without catalytic converters have an increased horsepower, lower engine operating temperature, healthier exhaust sound and better fuel mileage.
“Catalytic converters create a significant source of engine back-pressure due to the constrictive effects they have on exiting engine exhaust gases.
“Removal of catalytic converters from cars allows exhaust gases to exit their engines much faster and at higher levels,” says the report.
“Since catalytic converter removal allows for exhaust gases to exit a car’s engine at increased speeds, engine back-pressure is reduced, which lessens engine strain.
“This reduction in engine back-pressure and engine strain enables an engine to work more easily, and thus reduces fuel consumption and increases gas mileage. Nhau/Indaba

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