On Monday, the United Nations announced that Algeria had run out of the last drop of leaded gasoline. More than thirty years after the major switch to unleaded gasoline in Europe, it appears that heavy metal emissions from combustion engines are finally over. However, we do not get rid of it immediately. According to an American study, lead pollution will remain in the atmosphere and in our cities for decades to come.
David Van TurnhoutSource: Belga, Special Reports
Lead pollution was a huge problem due to the great popularity of gasoline engines in the 20th century. Leaded additives to gasoline ensured more stable combustion in the engine, making it vibrate less, but in the meantime, exhausts around the world blasted toxic tetraethyl lead into the atmosphere. This led to widespread poisoning. Even nail biting was life threatening due to this type of contamination. Lead is deposited from the sky to the ground and accumulates under the nails by touch. For example, I ended up biting my nails more than once in the hospital with life-threatening poisoning.
More leukemia due to lead substitutes
In the 1980s, realization grew that there was an urgent need for an alternative: unleaded gasoline. However, the introduction of this was not immediately smooth. Gasoline producers argued that alternatives to lead, especially gasoline, led to a leukemia epidemic and stuck to products containing heavy metals. Later, gasoline was replaced by the less harmful MBTE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) and the transformation could really begin. In most European countries, leaded gasoline was completely discontinued in the 1990s.
Forever in the air
On Monday, it was announced that Algeria had run out of leaded gasoline. “This is a huge step for global health and our environment,” said Inger Andersen, the United Nations Environment Program’s highest-ranking woman. However, it is not entirely certain whether we will ever get rid of lead in the atmosphere. An American study conducted by the University of Wisconsin showed that lead can still be in the air for years. For example, twenty years after Prohibition in Great Britain, pollution still exists. “It descends like dust and is scattered over and over again,” the study said.
Lead poisoning can lead to serious cardiovascular disease or kidney problems. Cancer is also associated with heavy metals.