UN: Leaded fuel to be gone by 2013

October 28, 2011 BY RON DePASQUALE , Associated Press

(AP) -- Leaded gasoline, once so widespread it was sold at U.S. pumps as "regular" fuel, is expected to be eradicated globally within two years, the United Nations Environment Program announced Thursday.

With the end of in sight, and environmental advocates are claiming victory in a fight that stretches all the way back to when it was first added to gasoline in the 1920s.

Leaded gasoline is still used in six nations. Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, North Korea, Myanmar and Yemen are expected to complete the phase-out by 2013, said the U.N., which is assisting those nations.

The elimination of leaded gasoline has increased IQ scores, lowered lead-in-blood levels by up to 90 percent and prevented the of more than 1.2 million people annually, according to a new study by Thomas Hatfield, chairman of California State University, Northridge's department of environmental and occupational health.

"We live in a time when politicians and lobbyists make sport out of pitting the economy against public health," said Peter Lehner, executive director of the Council. "This study flies in the face of those petty politics."

In 2002, the NRDC and the U.N. Environmental Program began a final push to eradicate leaded fuel by founding the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, which helps developing nations with the switch to .

Most of the six nations still using leaded gasoline are only using small amounts, said Jim Sniffen, a U.N. Environment Program spokesman. They are working with the U.N. and partner agencies to conduct for lead levels and develop plans to phase out leaded fuel, he said.

Lead became the gasoline additive of choice in the 1920s, after General Motors, DuPont and Standard Oil of New Jersey, the forerunner of Exxon, chose it over clean-burning ethanol and other alternatives as a way to make engines run better. It became universal despite warnings from public health advocates and a scandal over the deaths in 1924 of six refinery workers in Newark, New Jersey, who were poisoned while manufacturing it and "were led away in straitjackets," said Bill Kovarik, a journalist and communication professor at Radford University who researched the history of leaded gasoline.

"Historically, there are only a handful of major environmental victories like this," Kovarik said. "It took 90 years to eradicate what was always a well-known poison from a product that everyone uses. It's a great achievement, but it really says something about how public health works globally, that it took so long ... Benjamin Franklin complained about lead poisoning in print shops."

The industry falsely claimed that there were no alternatives to lead, which was more profitable, and gained control over the government's scientific study of it, Kovarik said.

Eventually, exposure to airborne lead was found to cause brain, kidney and cardiovascular damage. In children, it was found to lower IQ levels and shorten attention spans.

A public health crisis again erupted around lead in the 1960s as the environmental movement bloomed. A lawsuit filed by the NRDC in 1973 lead to the Environmental Protection Agency regulating lead in gasoline and finally banning it as an additive in 1986.

"This is an environmental issue that was rediscovered and it was finally phased out, but it could have been done early on with even the slightest precaution, because everyone knew about lead poisonings," Kovarik said.

"As we look to some future of environmental sanity, this is a great example of where we could have done better. We have to learn from this."

Explore further: Leaded gasoline predominant source of lead exposure in latter 20th century


Related Stories

Road rage: Fuel vapor heightens aggression

November 24, 2009

Outrageous prices may not be the only thing causing anger at the petrol pumps. A new study, published in the open access journal BMC Physiology, has shown that rats exposed to fumes from leaded and unleaded gasoline become ...

Children's lead poisoning drops

May 28, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- In 2007, 416 children were reported to have elevated blood lead levels in Los Angeles County, a dramatic improvement from 10 years earlier, when fewer children were tested but 1,184 reports of children with ...

British government to require biofuels

November 7, 2005

The British government will reportedly soon require oil companies to blend a fixed proportion of biofuels into the gasoline and diesel fuel they produce.

Germany's biofuels plan stalls

April 4, 2008

German officials said a plan to introduce a biofuel gasoline blend containing 10 percent ethanol may be postponed.

Recommended for you

Windows update will bring 3-D, game tools and doodling

March 29, 2017

A major update to Microsoft's Windows 10 system will start reaching consumers and businesses on April 11, offering 3-D drawing tools, game-broadcasting capabilities and better ways to manage your web browsing.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Oct 28, 2011
What no one seems to be aware of is that lead as a gasoline additive has been replaced by benzene, which is arguably more toxic than lead. Green gasoline indeed!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.