The origins of leaded gasoline can be traced back to 1921 when a General Motors scientist named Thomas Midgley discovered that the fuel was capable of reducing engine knock. Of course, there was a major caveat, as lead can cause numerous health problems ranging from cancer to neurological damage. Regardless, the use of leaded gasoline continued mostly unabated until the early 1970s, though it wasn’t fully banned in the U.S. until 1996. Amazingly, leaded fuel was still in use in the North African country of Algeria until last month, but now, it’s finally gone for good.
The UN Environment Program has worked to end the use of leaded fuel for 20 years now, a battle that it finally won, for the good of public health. “Ending the use of leaded petrol will prevent more than one million premature deaths each year from heart disease, strokes, and cancer,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “And it will protect children whose IQs are damaged by exposure to lead.”
“Overcoming a century of deaths and illnesses that affected hundreds of millions and degraded the environment worldwide, we are invigorated to change humanity’s trajectory for the better through an accelerated transition to clean vehicles and electric mobility,” added UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
The UN’s focus now is to shift the world away from the use of fossil fuels altogether, moving the transportation segment entirely to renewable sources of energy. Despite big investments in electric power by automakers – including Ford – the UN still notes that greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector are still expected to rise through 2050, an increase that can be partially attributed to poorly maintained used vehicles.
While Ford focuses on transitioning to electric power in Europe by 2030 and North American at an as-of-now undetermined point, President Joe Biden recently asked all three Detroit automakers to back a goal of EV sales totaling 40 percent of all new vehicle sales by 2030 as a way to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions moving forward.