UN hails ‘milestone’ as use of leaded petrol ended globally

The use of leaded petrol has been eradicated from the globe, a “milestone” that will prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths and save world economies more than $2.4 trillion annually, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said.

Nearly a century after doctors first issued warnings about the toxic effects of leaded petrol, Algeria – the last country to use the fuel – exhausted its supplies last month, the UNEP said on Monday, calling the news a landmark win in the fight for cleaner air.

“The successful enforcement of the ban on leaded petrol is a huge milestone for global health and our environment,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, which has its headquarters in Nairobi.

Even as recently as 20 years ago, more than 100 countries around the world were still using leaded petrol, despite studies linking it to premature deaths, poor health, and soil and air pollution.

Concerns were raised in 1924, when dozens of workers were hospitalised and five declared dead after suffering convulsions at a refinery run by US giant Standard Oil, nicknamed the “looney gas building” by staff.

Nevertheless, until the 1970s almost all the petrol sold across the globe contained lead.

When UNEP launched its campaign in 2002, many leading economic powers had already stopped using the fuel, including the United States, China and India. But the situation in lower-income nations remained dire.

ALJAZEERA