Global toxic leaded fuel production comes to an end with closing of last refinery

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Leaded gasoline production has ceased worldwide, as the last refinery has depleted its supply of the fuel that has been contaminating the air for nearly a century. The harmful fuel has been phased out as a result of intensive diplomatic efforts by the United States and the United Nations over the last two decades, according to a statement issued by the UN Environment Programme. The global prohibition will save roughly a million lives each year by preventing heart disease, strokes, and cancer, as well as protecting youngsters, who are especially vulnerable to it.

According to the UNEP, leaded gasoline was mostly utilized in Africa and other low-income countries. Over 100 countries were still using the fuel in 2002. The end of its global use — the final holdout was the Algiers Refinery, controlled by Sonatrach, Algeria’s state-owned oil business — will have a favorable impact on humans and all living things, according to the agency. It is also a significant step toward greening transportation.

“Leaded fuel is the kind of mistakes 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.” 

Per the World Health Organization, toxic fuel has exposed more people to lead than any other product in the world. Leaded gasoline pollutes the air, dust, soil, drinking water, and food crops by releasing toxic elements into the atmosphere. There are no harmful levels of lead in the blood of youngsters, resulting in reduced IQ and academic achievement. “We know lead exposure is a serious issue that affects vulnerable people, especially children,” said Janet McCabe, deputy administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “We can’t allow these effects to persist, at home in the U.S. or elsewhere.”

The first time tetraethyl lead was added to gasoline was in the early 1920s to boost the performance of car engines. Despite warnings from public health officials, its use continued for decades. The component was outlawed in the United States and many European countries by the end of the 20th century, although it was nevertheless used in underdeveloped countries for decades afterward.