Leaded gasoline is no longer used anywhere in the world, according to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). Algeria, the last country left using leaded gasoline, finished its stockpile in July.
The campaign to end the use of leaded gasoline started in 1924, just a few years after the practice of adding lead to gasoline started. Leaded gasoline was used to improve engine performance, but concerns over its health effects began following the death of five workers at a Standard Oil refinery. Dozens of other workers were also hospitalized for convulsions.
Studies later revealed that lead harmed both humans and the environment at large. It can contaminate the air, degrade soil quality and pollute water, among other effects. Those affected by lead are at risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke. Research shows that lead may also cause brain development issues in children.
The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has welcomed the discontinuation of leaded gasoline, saying, “Ending the use of leaded petrol will prevent more than one million premature deaths each year from heart disease, strokes, and cancer, and it will protect children whose IQs are damaged by exposure to lead.”
Although lead’s negative health effects were discovered early, many countries continued using leaded gasoline. The campaign to put an end to leaded gasoline intensified in the 1980s, when most wealthy countries had stopped using it. By the early 2000s, only 86 countries still used leaded gasoline. In 2016, North Korea, Myanmar and Afghanistan stopped selling leaded gasoline, leaving only a few countries (including Iraq, Yemen and Algeria) still producing the gasoline. Since 2002, UNEP has helped governments phase out the substance.
“Leaded fuel illustrates in a nutshell the kind of mistakes humanity has been making at every level of our societies,” Inger Andersen, UNEP executive director, said. The end of leaded gasoline use shows that “humanity can learn from and fix mistakes that we’ve made,” Andersen added.
Thandile Chinyavanhu, climate campaigner at Greenpeace Africa, continued by saying that “if we can phase out one of the most dangerous polluting fuels in the 20th century, we can absolutely phase out all fossil fuels.”
Lead image via Pixabay