Over half of all petrol sold in sub-Saharan Africa is now unleaded and a "lead-free" continent is now in sight, with Kenya set to announce that it will switch to fully unleaded petrol by 2006, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) said today.
Although much of Africa has lagged behind Western Europe and North America in phasing out leaded gasoline - mainly for technological reasons and a lack of awareness of the health risks - Kenya's decision to go fully unleaded is putting the continent on track to be lead-free by 2005.
Twelve countries with refineries have committed to lead phase-out; nine of them - Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana (refiner), Mauritania, Mauritius, Nigeria (refiner), Rwanda, and Sudan (refiner) - have already switched entirely to unleaded fuel.
Most of the countries that have not yet switched are in the process of developing action plans to ensure a complete phase out by the end of 2005. In total, over 50 per cent of all gasoline sold in sub-Saharan Africa is now unleaded.
Lead is a toxic metal that can cause damage to the kidneys, nervous system, brain, and cardiovascular and reproductive systems. Of most concern are its effects on the nervous system of young children. It has been linked with reduced intelligence, attention deficit disorders and behavioural difficulties.
According to UNEP, the switch to unleaded gas will also pave the way for cleaner vehicle technologies, such as catalytic converters, which can reduce harmful emissions from vehicles by over 90 per cent. These technologies are already standard in many parts of the world but need unleaded gas to be able to function.