Leaded gasoline use has been eradicated worldwide, a “milestone” that will prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths and save global economies more than $2.4 trillion annually, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Nearly a century after doctors first warned about the toxic effects of leaded gasoline, Algeria — the last country to use the fuel — ran out of fuel last month, the UNEP said Monday, calling the news a milestone in the fight for cleaner air.
“The successful enforcement of the leaded petrol ban is a huge milestone for global health and our environment,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, which is headquartered in Nairobi.
Even 20 years ago, more than 100 countries around the world still used leaded gasoline, despite studies linking it to premature deaths, ill health, and soil and air pollution.
Concerns arose in 1924, when dozens of workers were hospitalized and five were pronounced dead after convulsions at a refinery of US giant Standard Oil, dubbed the “looney gas building” by the staff.
Nevertheless, until the 1970s, almost all gasoline sold around the world contained lead.
When UNEP launched its campaign in 2002, many leading economic powers had already stopped using the fuel, including the United States, China and India. But the situation in the low-income countries remained dire.
In 2016, after North Korea, Myanmar and Afghanistan stopped selling leaded gasoline, only a handful of countries still operated gas stations that supplied the fuel, and Algeria finally followed Iraq and Yemen by ending its dependence on the pollutants. dust.
UNEP said in a statement that eradication of leaded gasoline “would prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths a year, increase IQ points among children and save $2.44 trillion.” [2.07 trillion euros] for the global economy and reducing crime rates”.
The agency said the dollar figure came from a 2010 study led by scientists at California State University in Northridge.
The main factors were the benefits of better health to the overall economy, lower medical costs and a decrease in criminal activity – higher crime rates were previously associated with exposure to leaded fuel.
‘End of a toxic era’
UNEP warned that fossil fuel use in general still needs to be drastically reduced to avert the terrifying effects of climate change.
Greenpeace praised the news as “a celebration of the end of a toxic era”.
“It clearly shows that if we can phase out one of the most dangerous polluting fuels in the 20th century, we can phase out absolutely all fossil fuels,” said Thandile Chinyavanhu, climate and energy activist at Greenpeace Africa.
“African governments should no longer apologize for the fossil fuel industry,” she added.
Global car sales will grow exponentially, especially in emerging markets.
“The transport sector is responsible for nearly a quarter of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions and will grow to a third by 2050,” the UNEP said, adding that 1.2 billion new vehicles would hit the streets in the coming decades.
“This includes millions of poor quality used vehicles exported from Europe, the United States and Japan to middle and low-income countries.
“This contributes to global warming and air-polluting traffic and [is] will certainly cause accidents,” the global body said.
Earlier this month, a bombshell report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the average temperature on Earth would be 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer by 2030 compared to pre-industrial times.
Ten years earlier than expected, the rise has set alarm bells ringing about the use of fossil fuels.