Ridding the world of leaded petrol, with the United Nations leading the effort
in developing countries, has resulted in $2.4 trillion in annual benefits, 1.2
million fewer premature deaths, higher overall intelligence and 58 million fewer
crimes, according to a new study released today.
The phase-out of leaded petrol began in developed countries such as the United
States in the 1980s, but in developing nations the additive, one of the world’s
most serious pollutants blamed for increased blood pressure, cardiovascular
disease, delayed mental and physical development, reduced attention span and
increased criminality, was still being used until recently.
The California State University study cites the massive benefits the phase-out
has brought, including more than 1.2 million fewer premature deaths annually,
125,000 of them of children, with tests showing lead in blood levels dropping
dramatically by 90 per cent or more, particularly in cities.
Some 58 million crimes have been averted and IQs (intelligence quotient) have
risen, with research indicating that children with lots of lead in their blood
are much more likely to be aggressive, violent and delinquent. It is estimated
that $2.4 trillion in costs have been saved each year, equivalent to 4 per cent
of global gross domestic product (GDP).
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), as an outcome of the 2002 World Summit on
Sustainable Development, was entrusted with leading the final elimination of
leaded petrol through a public-private partnership that helped most developing
and transitional countries go unleaded.
The Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV), involving 120 civil society
organizations, Governments and major oil and vehicles companies, has supported
over 80 States to phase-out lead in transport fuel. The small handful of
countries still using small amounts of leaded petrol – Afghanistan, Algeria, the
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Iraq, Myanmar and Yemen – are
expected to make the switch over the next year or two.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 15 and 18 million
children in developing countries currently suffer from permanent brain damage
due to lead poisoning and, according to the results of the research, leaded
petrol was responsible for some 90 per cent of human lead exposure.
“Yet again, here is a clear body of analysis that demonstrates that far from
being a burden on economies, acting on environmental challenges generates
multiple Green Economy benefits right across countries and economies,” UNEP
Executive Director Achim Steiner said of the study.
“Although this global effort has often flown below the radar of media and global
leaders, it is clear that the elimination of leaded petrol is an immense
achievement on par with the global elimination of major deadly diseases. This
will go down in history as one of the major environmental achievements of the
past few decades. It is a triumph of diplomacy and public-private
But although the lead phase-out has almost been completed, much more still needs
to be done.
“Action is now underway to tackle other health hazardous vehicle emissions, such
as the unacceptably high levels of sulphur still found in fuels on continents
like Africa,” Mr. Steiner said.