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Leaded Gas Eradicated from the World, Says United Nations

Two decades later, the U.N.’s campaign to end the universal use of leaded gasoline has succeeded.

By:  |  September 7, 2021  |    400 Words
GettyImages-1327708327 pumping gas

(Photo by Chris Ware/Newsday RM via Getty Images).

The United Nations announced that the world has said goodbye to leaded gasoline – or petrol, as it’s called in many other parts of the world. Almost 20 years ago, the U.N.’s Environment Programme (UNEP) started a campaign to expel the dangerous fuel from being used after it was found to be poisonous. Algeria was the last country to stop using the gas for motor vehicles.

What Is Leaded Gas?

Starting in the early 1900s, a chemical called tetraethyl lead (TEL) was tested and found to be cheap while improving engine performance. It was rolled out initially by General Motors and was soon used in gasoline everywhere. By 1924, the serious health and pollution repercussions became obvious. At a refinery run by Standard Oil, nicknamed the “looney gas building,” dozens of employees were put in hospital and five died after having convulsions at work.

When the fuel burned in cars, the emissions were so toxic they increased humans’ chances of heart disease, cancer, and strokes. The leaded gas also contaminated the air, soil, and drinking water.

Strong research shows it can reduce IQ scores and harm the brain development of children who are exposed to the chemical. Studies also have found that exposure to leaded gasoline can cause lower emotional control, leading to increases in violence and crime.

By the 1980s, most wealthier countries had reduced or ended their use of leaded gasoline. By 2002, over 80 countries were still using the  fuel — many were on the African continent. North Korea, Myanmar, and Afghanistan stopped selling leaded gas by 2016, leaving only a few countries left to follow in their footsteps. Iraq, Yemen, and Algeria were some of the last countries to stop using it.

Benefits of Ending Use

According to the UNEP, banning leaded gasoline prevented 1.2 million premature deaths and saved the world market over $2.4 trillion a year. The overall benefits were better health and lower medical costs.

did you know lead

Symbolic Meaning

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called this win for the world an “international success story.” The Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, notes that eliminating leaded gasoline shows there is hope for solving big problems around the world.

Director Andersen also thinks people should find hope in the fact that humans can learn from their mistakes. He said humanity “can learn from and fix mistakes that we’ve made.”

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