Vehicle loading gasoline at service station.
After almost 100 years, leaded gasoline sales were permanently stopped around the world, a great achievement in the interest of the environment and public health. Photo: Getty Images.

Good news for the planet: So long leaded gasoline

More than 1.2 million lives will be saved a year thanks to the official eradication of the fuel source, also saving $2.45 trillion.


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After 19 years of incessant struggle, the end of leaded gasoline worldwide has finally been made official through the United Nations Environment Program, UNEP. The announcement was made by the United Nations from Nairobi, after the high-pollution fuel stopped sale at service stations in Algeria last July.

A century of environmental damage
A fuel that emerged almost 100 years ago (1922) with the purpose of improving the performance of engines, became a catastrophe for the environment and public health, peaking in the 1970s when most of gasoline produced on the planet contained lead. By 2002, the year the campaign to abandon the harmful chemical began, it was considered one of the environment's greatest threats.

The air, soil, drinking water, crops, among many other products of nature, were highly contaminated by the use of the dangerous metal for 99 years, while also causing major negative effects on human health, among which are heart diseases, cerebrovascular disease accidents, and various types of cancer.

The development of the children's brains was also seriously affected, which was confirmed by several studies suggesting the pollutant could be responsible for the reduction in the intelligence quotient (IQ) from five to 10 points.

Does banning this fuel save lives?

According to UN estimates, by totally banning the use of leaded gasoline, more than 1.2 million premature deaths a year would be avoided, while saving the world's economy up to $2.45 trillion. Likewise, the non-circulation of this fuel will help to increase the IQ in children and potentially lead to a significant reduction in crime rates. 

The Green Peace's Twitter account for Spain reacted enthusiastically to the news, highlighting the world's ability to achieve a common goal together, inviting others to continue doing the same with the remaining fossil fuels.

"After a century of death and disease that affected hundreds of millions of people and degraded the global environment, we are determined to set the course for humanity with an accelerated transition to electric mobility and the use of clean vehicles," were the words of Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP.

Africa, the last link in leaded gasoline

Dr. Kwaku Afriyie, Ghana's Minister of Science, Technology and Environmental Innovation, said: “When the UN began working with governments and businesses to phase out lead from gasoline, sub-Saharan African nations eagerly seized this opportunity. Ghana was one of five West African countries to join the first sub-regional workshops and declarations. Following the alliance's media campaigns, reports, studies, exposure of illegalities, and public testing conducted to reveal high levels of lead in the population's blood, Ghana became increasingly determined to release the lead fuel.”

It was precisely in Africa where the last service stations were located until July, when the last gallons of the fuel were sold in Algeria. It came after most countries had banned the production and use of leaded gasoline in the 1980s.

Pending challenges

Although the definitive stop to fuel distribution is a great triumph for humanity, the objective is to definitively abandon the use of fossil fuels that continue to deteriorate air quality and pollute the planet in general, with the transport sector being responsible for at least a quarter of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. This proportion is projected to increase to a third by 2050.

"The fact that a UN-backed multi-sectoral alliance has been able to rid the world of this toxic fuel is testament to the power of multilateralism to move the world towards sustainability and a cleaner, greener future," said the UNEP Executive Director, who assured that the combination of fuels and cleaner vehicles can reduce emissions by more than 80%.

For its part, lead, a highly toxic element in gasoline, is also currently present in paints, batteries and various household items, which require urgent action to prohibit and/or limit its use.


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