The United Nations' environment agency Tuesday announced that, as of January 1, leaded fuel will no longer be produced in, or imported into, Sub-Saharan Africa.
A program officer at the United Nations Environment Program, Robert De Jong, tells VOA Sub-Saharan Africa is the first region among developing countries to phase out leaded fuel.
From Sunday onwards, importers and producers of gasoline in Sub-Saharan Africa will only be dealing in unleaded fuel.
Mr. De Jong says it may take distributors up to two months or so to get rid of their leaded fuel supplies, but eventually the leaded fuel will, in his words, be "flushed out."
He says lead contained in the fuel disperses into the air and causes severe health effects on kidneys, livers, hearts and other organs when inhaled. Children are particularly at risk.
"The impact of the use of leaded petrol in major cities in Africa is estimated to have reduction of four to five IQ points per child. And this is quite a lot because you can measure this - their performance at school is less, for example, because of this," said Mr. De Jong.
Plans to phase out leaded fuel in sub-Saharan Africa were first announced at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in South Africa.
There, a new initiative called the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles decided to concentrate their efforts on the continent.
At that time, Sudan was the only Sub-Saharan African country out of 49 countries to be fully unleaded.
In early 2006, the initiative aims to focus on phasing out leaded fuel in North Africa, the Middle East, and West Asia. Leaded fuel has already been phased out in many parts of the world including North America and Europe.
Still to be reduced in sub-Saharan Africa and other places are sulfur levels in diesel and gas vehicle fuels.
The U.N. environment agency says sulfur levels are typically 10 to 50 parts-per-million in European countries, while in most African countries the level is somewhere around 5,000 parts-per-million.
Sulfur has been linked to health problems including heart attacks in the elderly and damages trees and other biological systems.