The use of leaded petrol has been eradicated from the globe, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced on Monday adding that the milestone will prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths and save world economies over $2.4 trillion annually. Algeria, the last country to use leaded petrol, exhausted its supplies last month, the US agency said.

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It was in the first half of the 20th Century that medical professionals first started warning about the effects of toxic leaded petrol. Within a century, its use has been eradicated. UNEP called the news a landmark win in the fight for cleaner air.

“The successful enforcement of the ban on leaded petrol is a huge milestone for global health and our environment,” said Inger Anderson, executive director of UNEP, which is headquartered in Nairobi.

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Just 20 years ago, nearly 100 countries across the world used leaded petrol, despite there being studies linking it to premature deaths, poor health and soil and air pollution.

Concerns around the ill effects of leaded petrol rose as early as 1924 after dozens of workers were hospitalised and five died after suffering convulsions at a US-based refinery run by Standard Oil, nicknamed the “looney gas building” by staff. 

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Until the 1970s, nearly all gasoline sold across the world contained lead. The UNEP launched a campaign to stop the use of leaded petrol in 2002. By then, several countries, including the major powers such as United States, China and India, had already stopped using the fuel. But low-income nations continued to use this fuel for years.

By 2016, Afghanistan, North Korea and Myanmar stopped selling leaded petrol and only a handful of countries were still using the fuel. After Iraq and Yemen stopped using the fuel, only Algeria remained. Algeria exhausted its supplies of leaded petrol last month, thereby ending the use of leaded petrol in the world.

While announcing the milestone, UNEP added that the use of fossil fuel in general must be drastically reduced to stave off the effects of climate change.