Leaded gasoline is over

It took barely twenty years. Twenty years of scientific, political and economic mobilization to completely eliminate one of the most polluting fuels in the world: leaded gasoline. Final stop with Algeria, the last country where a handful of service stations still offered this fuel until this summer.

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The decision was taken by the Algerian government in September 2020, and since 1er July, the network only received unleaded. A few more weeks, the time for stocks to run out, and here is the planet free of unleaded for cars, welcomed the UN Monday, August 30.

Banning leaded gasoline will prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths per year, increase IQ points in children, save $ 2.4 trillion in health and reduce crime rate, estimates the United Nations environment program.

Lead, still very present in batteries and accumulators, is toxic to humans and the environment. Particularly assimilated by children and therefore very dangerous for them, lead causes anemia, kidney problems, cognitive and behavioral disorders, or even lead poisoning.

The arrival of catalytic converters and the end of lead

The idea of ​​adding lead to gasoline dates back to 1922, to compensate for the poor quality of the fuel. At the time, the harmful and toxic effects of lead were already known, which did not prevent the petroleum and automotive industries from promoting leaded gasoline to improve engine performance and life. With the development of catalytic converters in the 1970s, the lead that destroyed them was removed from gasoline first in the United States, then gradually in Western countries.

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It was not until the early 1990s in France for unleaded gasoline to spread. And the European directive of 1998, which came into force in 2000, so that this additive in fuel is definitively banned. Globally, the United Nations started a campaign from 2002, focusing on the modernization of refineries in developing countries and analyzes of lead levels in children to change uses.

Several corruption lawsuits targeting the American company Innospec, one of the world’s last manufacturers of leaded gasoline, have also put an end to the export of this fuel to African and Asian countries, in particular Iraq and Indonesia. .

A rare environmental success

Such international cooperation to eliminate a pollutant deserves to be noticed, as climate reports multiply their alerts without much success. Michael Walsh, former head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, told the UN platform that it was for him “The greatest success in the field of the environment”. This success is reminiscent of that of limiting the destruction of the ozone layer, with the Montreal Protocol of 1987 banning chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

However, the effects of soil pollution by leaded gasoline will still be felt for several decades due to lack of pollution control. Apart from a few rare species of fungi which give rise to hope for treating contaminated areas, all the flora and fauna exposed to lead are poisoned, with more or less serious impacts depending on the species.


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