Algeria last month ended the sale of leaded gasoline to cars, which the United Nations Environment Agency deems a “tremendous achievement for global health and the environment”.
Leaded gasoline was introduced nearly a hundred years ago to boost engine performance and was widely used for decades until it was discovered that it could cause heart disease, stroke, and brain damage.
More prosperous nations began discontinuing its use in the 1980s, but it continued to be sold in low- and middle-income countries until 2002, when the United Nations launched a global campaign to end leaded gasoline, which continued to be used as fuel for small aircraft.
The United Nations estimates that the eventual end of leaded gasoline accounts for 1.2 million deaths averted and $2.4 billion saved annually.
The first warning about health risks is ancient: in 1924, dozens of workers at a refinery in New Jersey, in the United States, were hospitalized with epileptic fits and five died.
Despite this, most gasoline sold in the world until 1970 was fortified with lead.
In 2016, North Korea, Burma and Afghanistan were among the last countries in the world to stop selling leaded gasoline. Iraq, Yemen and finally Algeria have done the same.
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