Petrol sniffing is a form of volatile substance use and can cause a number of serious health impacts, including brain damage or death. This can have a major effect in communities where petrol sniffing is a problem and on the families who live there.
Low aromatic fuel is an unleaded petrol that has been designed to discourage people from sniffing by lowering the amount of the toxic aromatic components, which can cause intoxication.
The Australian Government funds the extra costs of producing low aromatic fuel. This allows it to be sold at a similar price to regular unleaded petrol (91).
Fuel manufacturers, retailers, distributors and mechanics are key partners with the Australian Government in delivering low aromatic fuel to regional and remote communities.
There are around 185 retail sites across Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia that stock low aromatic fuel. The fuel has been available in many remote places since 2005. A map showing the availability of low aromatic fuel is available below.
The replacement of regular unleaded petrol (91) with low aromatic fuel in targeted regions is a proven strategy to reduce petrol sniffing. Research released by the University of Queensland in 2019 revealed a 95.2 per cent reduction in petrol sniffing in communities surveyed since 2005-07 that stock low aromatic fuel. The study also demonstrates:
- the long term benefits of continuing to make low aromatic fuel available,
- that the sharp drop in petrol sniffing numbers brought about by the introduction of low aromatic fuel has been sustained, with some communities even recording a further drop, and
- if low aromatic fuel were removed from communities, there would be a significant risk of petrol sniffing outbreaks returning.
Low aromatic fuel has a minimum octane rating of 91 and can be used any engine in which manufacturers recommend the use of regular unleaded petrol (91). This includes cars, boats and small engines such as lawn mowers, whipper snippers, generators, chainsaws, bikes and all-terrain vehicles. It can be mixed with the regular unleaded petrol (91) already in your engine.
The fuel has undergone independent testing to ensure it complies with the Australian fuel quality standards.
Low aromatic fuel has at some times in the past been referred to as ‘non-sniffable’ or ‘unsniffable’ fuel. This terminology is no longer used as low aromatic fuel, like all fuels, still contains dangerous chemicals. Low aromatic fuel is designed for use in engines and like all fuels it is dangerous if inhaled.
Availability of low aromatic fuel
Consolidating or expanding the low aromatic fuel rollout (text version of map)
Factors that influence the availability of low aromatic fuel:
- Community Request – If a community or a fuel outlet feels there is a need for low aromatic fuel to be available in their area, they can approach the Agency for assistance, either emailing to LowAromaticFuel@niaa.gov.au or contacting one of our Regional Offices.
- Consultation – consultation with the broader community, fuel distributors and fuel retailers must take place before low aromatic fuel is introduced to a new area.
- Logistics – the storage and distribution of low aromatic fuel in a new area must be proven logistically viable and sustainable before it can replace regular unleaded petrol (91) in a new area.
- Legislative requirements – In some areas, the sale and supply of regular unleaded petrol (91) is prohibited by law, and low aromatic fuel is available in its place.
Areas where low aromatic fuel is widely available
- Arnhem Land
- Tennant Creek
- Central Australia
- East Kimberley
Areas where there is some availability of low aromatic fuel
- Gulf of Carpentaria
- Western Cape York
Darwin (one station only) – Shell Coles Express Palmerston, 2 Yarrawonga Road (Cnr Roystonea Ave). In addition to low aromatic fuel, the Palmerston station also sells regular unleaded petrol (91) as well as premium unleaded petrol (95) and diesel. Low aromatic fuel is available at bowsers 5, 9, and 10 and is branded in green writing as Shell Unleaded 91 Low Aromatic
Having low aromatic fuel available in Darwin makes it easier for people travelling from Darwin to communities to fill up petrol cars, boats and any small motors (such as mowers, whipper snippers and generators) with low aromatic fuel at the start of the journey. This reduces the risk of regular unleaded petrol (91) getting into communities and potentially causing harm.
Some individual communities also stock low aromatic fuel outside these areas.
The Department works with communities, fuel retailers, local health providers and other stakeholders to continually monitor areas where petrol sniffing emerges as a concern and considers if the rollout of low aromatic fuel in that area will reduce harm.
Additional information on petrol sniffing and other volatile substance use can be found on the following webpages:
- The Central Australian Youth Link-Up Service (CAYLUS) mission is to support community initiatives that improve quality of life and address substance use affecting young people in Central Australia. Find out more at www.caylus.org.au
- Youth Empowered Towards Independence (YETI) is a community based organisation that works with vulnerable young people. Find out more at www.yeti.net.au
For more information on volatile substance use responses at state or territory level, you can refer to the following webpages: