The Guardian, 12 October 2020:
Leaflets printed on “rather grotty” blue paper. That is how Janet Alty will always remember one of the most successful environment campaigns of modern times: the movement to ban lead in petrol.
There were the leaflets she wrote to warn parents at school gates of the dangers, leaflets to persuade voters and politicians, leaflets to drown out the industry voices saying – falsely – there was nothing to worry about.
In the late 1970s, the UK was still poisoning the air with the deadly toxin, despite clear scientific evidence that breathing in lead-tainted air from car exhausts had an effect on development and intelligence. Recently returned from several years in the US, Alty was appalled. Lead had been phased out in the US from 1975. Why was the British government still subjecting children to clear harm?
Robin Russell-Jones asked the same question. A junior doctor, he quickly grasped the nature of the lead problem, moving his family out of London. His fellow campaigner, Robert Stephens, amassed a trove of thousands of scientific papers, keeping them in his garage when his office burned down – he suspected foul play.
Their campaign took years. But in 1983, a damning verdict from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution prompted the UK government to decree that both petrol stations and manufacturers must offer lead-free alternatives. Leaded petrol was finally removed from the last petrol pumps in the UK in 1999.