A medical research group has said a study has shown that the introduction of unleaded petrol has resulted in healthier children, but it is still concerned about the high number of children with lead in their blood.

The Medical Research Council has said that a recent study has shown that the introduction of unleaded petrol has resulted in healthier children, but it is still concerned about the high number of children with lead in their blood.

The reports that the study of a group of Johannesburg children showed a 25 per cent drop in the average blood-lead level. Unleaded petrol was introduced in 1996 and leaded fuel will be phased out by 2006. The council said it supported this plan. It said high blood-lead concentrations led to falls in IQ scores, poor school performance, hyperactivity, shortened concentration spans and behavioural problems.

More motorists are switching to unleaded fuel. Between January and September 2002, sales of unleaded petrol increased from 21 to 39 per cent of more than one billion litres sold throughout South Africa.

A Shell survey last year concluded that if all motorists who were able to use unleaded did so, the amount of lead going into our environment would immediately be halved.

BP said last year that 50 per cent of its South African network of 750 service stations will stock only lead-free fuel from this year. BP said it was restructuring its services ahead of the planned phasing out of leaded fuel by 2006. All new petrol stations will provide only unleaded and lead-free cleaner super, designed to provide fuel for all vehicles which currently use leaded petrol.

However, the council said it was concerned that there was still a high number of children with elevated blood-lead levels. “As many as 62 per cent of children attending schools in economically-deprived townships such as Alexandra have elevated blood-lead concentrations, especially those living near or attending schools close to busy roads,” said a spokesman.