Production of leaded petrol has ended worldwide now that the last refinery has exhausted its supply of the fuel that has poisoned the air for almost a century.
The end of the toxic fuel follows intense diplomatic efforts by the US and the United Nations over the past two decades, the UN Environment Program said. The global ban will prevent about 1 million premature deaths annually from heart disease, strokes and cancer, as well as protect children, who are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning.
Leaded petrol was used mainly in Africa and in other low-income countries, according to the UNEP. As of 2002, more than 100 countries used the fuel. The end of its usage globally will have positive implications for humans and all living creatures, the agency said. It is also a major step forward in greening transport.
“Leaded fuel is the kind of mistake that humanity has been making at every level,” UNEP executive director Inger Andersen told reporters on Monday. “It’s the kind of mistake that has led us to the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis and the crisis of pollution.”
The poisonous fuel has caused more exposure to lead than any other product worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation. Leaded petrol contaminates air, dust, soil, drinking water and food crops. It has contributed to dangerously high levels of lead in human blood, which causes decreasing IQ in children as well as lower academic achievement.
“We know lead exposure is a serious issue that affects vulnerable people, especially children,” said Janet McCabe, deputy administrator at the US Environmental Protection Agency. “We can’t allow these effects to persist, at home in the US or elsewhere.”
Tetraethyl lead was first added to petrol in the early 1920s to improve the performance of car engines. Its use continued for decades despite warnings from public health authorities. While the component was banned in the US and many European countries by the end of the 20th century, its use continued in developing countries for decades.
Luc Gnacadja, who was minister of environment, housing and urban planning of Benin between 1999 and 2005, called for more oversight into the imports of used vehicles from developed countries into African nations. “Right now most vehicles imported into Africa are vehicles that would be dismantled in their countries of origin.”