10/27/2011 05:35 pm ET Updated Dec 27, 2011

Lead In Gasoline: Global Phase-Out Declared A Victory After Decade-Long Campaign

Victory has been declared in a decade-long campaign to globally phase out lead from gasoline.

More than 185 countries worldwide have stopped adding lead to gasoline, while six other countries using small amounts are expect to completely phase it out over the next two years (including, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, North Korea, Myanmar and Yemen), according to a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) press release.

A new study, "Global Benefits of Phasing Out Leaded Fuel," which will be published in the December edition of the Journal of Environmental Health reports that the phase out means an annual $2.4 trillion in health, social and economic benefits.

NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner writes on his staff blog that the announcement marks "a major victory for the world's children, and the people of developing nations around the globe."

He said the new study reveals a 90% drop in the amount of lead levels in blood worldwide and saves 1.2 million lives annually through the phase out of lead in gasoline.

According to his blog, lead has been used in gasoline since the 1920's, but the dangers of airborne lead didn't become known until decades later. "We now know that lead can cause brain, kidney, and cardiovascular damage in adults and kids. Even small amounts of lead can lower a child’s IQ level and shorten attention span. Children with lead in their blood are also more likely to become aggressive, violent and delinquent."

The phase out campaign was spearheaded by the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, which is hosted by the United Nations Environment Program, and of which the NRDC is a founding member.

Rich Kassel, Senior Attorney and Director of Clean Fuels and Vehicles Project in New York writes on his NRDC staff blog that the group has worked on phasing out leaded gasoline since the 1970's, starting in the U.S.

He writes there is a clear picture of where in the world lead has been phased out. "In countries that say they don't sell leaded gasoline, there is no lead in the gasoline we sampled. And, in countries that said they still used some lead in their gasoline, like Myanmar, we found the lead in our samples," he writes.

While lead in fuel is phasing out around the world, lead in factories and even theme parks is still presenting a problem. In September, the Associated Press reported the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau was studying lead emissions from two factories in its suburbs as part of an investigation into the source of lead poisoning among children in a nearby village.

In June, 600 people, including 103 children, suffered lead poisoning in China. The country has been experiencing widespread problems from heavy metal contamination in recent years, according to the Associated Press. "Thousands of children (were) affected by lead poisoning in several provinces in 2009 and 2010 because they lived near metal smelters or battery factories," the report writes.

Earlier this year, Disneyland attractions were accused of having excessive level of lead, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation filed an injunction that would require the park to cover the items found to contain lead or post warning signs.