Leaded gasoline has finally reached the end of the road—the last country in the world to use it has stopped selling the highly toxic fuel. Algeria halted the sale of leaded gas last month, prompting the UN Environment Agency to declare the “official end” of its use in cars, which has been blamed for a wide range of human health problems. “The successful enforcement of the ban on leaded petrol is a huge milestone for global health and our environment,” UNEP's executive director, Inger Andersen, said in a statement. Petroleum containing tetraethyllead, a form of lead, was first sold almost 100 years ago to increase engine performance.
The fuel was widely used for decades until researchers discovered that it could cause heart disease, strokes, and brain damage. UNEP cited studies suggesting that leaded gas caused measurable intellectual impairment in children and millions of premature deaths. Most rich nations started phasing out the fuel in the 1980s but it was still widely used in low- and middle-income countries until 2002, when the UN launched a global campaign to abolish it. Leaded gas is still used in aviation fuel for small planes. (Read more Algeria stories.)