End Of The Road For Leaded Petrol

The last country in the world to use leaded petrol, Algeria, halted sale of leaded petrol a month ago, prompting the UN to declare ‘official end’ of the use of leaded petrol in cars. This is good news as leaded petrol is a highly toxic fuel which has been blamed for a wide range of human health problems such as heart disease, strokes and brain damage.

In Africa, leaded petrol could have been completely phased out on 1 January 2006, as a result of a ban initiated from the 2002 Earth Summit. However, this mean’t that in Algeria refineries needed to be altered as a result. So leaded petrol remained available in parts of Algeria, with a phaseout scheduled for 2016, until in 2021, the Algerian Government banned the marketing of leaded petrol at all petrol stations in the country. The world became safe of leaded cars.

"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.

Petrol containing tetraethyllead, a lead compound, was first sold almost 100 years ago to increase engine performance. Tetraethyllead, abbreviated TEL, chemical formula (CH3CH2)4Pb, is a petrol additive that was used as an octane booster to increase vehicle performance and fuel economy.

Sadly, TEL was later discovered to have toxic effects especially in children, due to the the toxic effects of lead. Besides its toxic effects in humans, lead also poisons catalytic converters and causes spark plug fouling. As a result, from the ’70s, many countries began phasing out TEL in automotive fuel. The results were worth it, as noted in a 2011 study by the United Nations, the removal of TEL had resulted in $2.4 trillion in annual benefits, and 1.2 million fewer premature deaths.

Some of the effects of acute exposure to tetraethyllead are:

  • irritation of the eyes and skin
  • sneezing
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • a metallic taste in the mouth
  • pulmonary edema
  • anemia
  • ataxia
  • convulsions
  • severe weight loss
  • delirium
  • irritability
  • hallucinations
  • nightmares
  • fever
  • muscle and joint pain
  • swelling of the brain
  • coma
  • damage to cardiovascular and renal organs
  • memory loss
  • delayed reflexes
  • neurological problems
  • insomnia
  • tremors
  • psychosis
  • loss of attention
  • an overall decrease in IQ and cognitive function.

However, leaded petrol is still being used in aviation fuel for small planes.


Sydney Chako

Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics teacher at Sytech Learning Academy. From Junior Secondary School to Tertiary Level Engineering Mathematics and Engineering Science.

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