Leaded gasoline – which contains the compound tetraethyl lead and has been linked to serious health problems – was first patented in 1922 and allowed cars to use higher compression ratios, which made them more powerful. In the 1970s, it was found in almost all types of gasoline worldwide.
But the consequences were disastrous and weren’t fully understood until cases of lead poisoning surfaced in the United States. The researchers found that even low levels of lead impaired the human brain, especially in children, sometimes reducing their intelligence and slowing their reflexes.
The fuel has also been linked to heart disease, strokes, and certain types of cancer.
The announcement is the result of nearly two decades of the UNEP-led Clean Fuels and Vehicles Partnership campaign. The campaign began in 2002 when 117 countries were still using leaded gasoline.
“Successful enforcement of the leaded gasoline ban is a major milestone for global health and our environment,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said in a statement.
The United States began eliminating lead from gasoline in 1973, and a number of other countries followed suit.
The ban on the use of leaded fuel in road vehicles has prevented more than 1.2 million premature deaths each year, according to UNEP. It has also improved Levels of intelligence among children and saved $ 2.45 trillion annually for the global economy, according to a study by California State University.
However, the end of road vehicle use after 99 years does not mean lead has been phased out in all fuels, and lead poisoning is still a health problem, especially for children.
The aviation industry continues to burn avgas, a leaded fuel, to power small piston-engine aircraft for home and business travel, flight instruction, agriculture, and fire fighting.
“We have to say, however, that in terms of lead pollution, it is less of a burden than what we’ve seen in the transport fleet. That doesn’t mean it’s not important,” Andersen said at a press conference.
And what followed lead-containing gas was not necessarily good for your health: in many parts of the world, the phase-out meant a greater dependency on diesel, which is also harmful to health and the environment.
Phillip Landrigan, who was working on research leading to the ban on leaded gasoline in the US, said motor fuels should be banned outright.
“Diesel has a negative public health impact – absolutely anything that causes cancer and causes respiratory irritation and asthma that causes diesel exhaust is bad for public health,” he told CNN.
“We really need to get away from gasoline. We really need to get away from diesel as soon as possible,” Landrigan said, adding that the world should now focus on the transition to electric vehicles.
Electric vehicles are growing in popularity in many developed countries, including the United States, China, and much of Europe. When powered by renewable energy, they can significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the health effects of using gasoline and diesel.
According to UNEP, almost a quarter of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the transport sector, a proportion that is expected to grow to a third by 2050.