When Algerian service stations stopped selling leaded gasoline in July, the world’s usage of it came to an end. This comes after a nearly two-decade-long global Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) campaign led by UNEP.
The usage of tetraethyllead as a petrol additive to boost engine performance has wreaked havoc on the environment and public health since 1922. By the 1970s, lead was found in practically all gasoline manufactured across the world.
Lead in gasoline was one of the most important environmental risks to human health when the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) launched its campaign to remove it in 2002.
After contaminating the air, dust, soil, drinking water, and food crops for more than a century, leaded petrol will be phased out globally in 2021. Leaded gasoline is linked to heart disease, stroke, and cancer. It also has an impact on brain development, particularly in children, with studies indicating that it can impair IQ by 5-10 points.
It is estimated that banning the use of leaded petrol would prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths per year, raise children’s IQ scores, save the world economy $2.45 trillion, and lower crime rates.
Although most high-income countries had banned the use of leaded petrol by the 1980s, practically all low- and middle-income countries, including several OECD members, continued to use it as late as 2002.
The PCFV is a public-private partnership that brought together all parties, giving technical support, raising awareness, overcoming local hurdles and resistance from local oil dealers and lead producers, and investing in refinery renovations.
Despite this progress, the world’s rapidly expanding vehicle fleet continues to pose a hazard of local air, water, and soil pollution, as well as contributing to the global climate problem. By 2050, the transportation sector will account for approximately a third of all energy-related worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
While many countries have begun the shift to electric vehicles, there will be 1.2 billion more vehicles on the road in the next few decades, many of which will run on fossil fuels, particularly in developing countries. This includes millions of low-quality old vehicles exported to low- and middle-income countries from Europe, the United States, and Japan. This adds to global warming and air pollution, as well as causing accidents.
Furthermore, while the greatest source of lead pollution has been eliminated, immediate action is still required to prevent lead contamination from other sources, such as lead in paints, leaded batteries, and lead in household products.
Multiple Sustainable Development Goals, such as good health and well-being (SDG3), clean water (SDG6), clean energy (SDG7), sustainable cities (SDG11), climate action (SDG13), and life on land, are projected to benefit from the elimination of leaded petrol (SDG15).
It also provides an opportunity to restore ecosystems, particularly in urban areas where this toxic pollutant has primarily harmed the ecosystems.
Finally, it is a significant step forward ahead of this year’s International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies on September 7th.