About one-third of children in the world are affected by lead poisoning, a new study has shown.
The study carried out by United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF) and Pure Earth, an international non-profit organisation focused on pollution issues shows that “lead poisoning is affecting children on a massive and previously unknown scale.”
According to the study, which is the first of its kind, nearly half of these children live in South Asia
The report indicates that “around 1 in 3 children – up to 800 million globally – have blood lead levels at, or above, 5 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL), the amount at which action is required.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children.
Lead in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney and bones. It is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time.
Symptoms of lead poisoning may include abdominal pain, constipation, headaches, irritability, memory problems, inability to have children, and tingling in the hands and feet.
The report titled “The Toxic Truth: Children’s exposure to lead pollution undermines a generation of potential” – is an analysis of childhood lead exposure undertaken by the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation and verified with a study approved for publication in Environmental Health Perspectives.
It features five case studies in Kathgora, Bangladesh; Tbilisi, Georgia; Agbogbloshie, Ghana; Pesarean, Indonesia; and Morelos State, Mexico.
The report notes that lead is a potent neurotoxin which causes irreparable harm to children’s brains. It is particularly destructive to babies and children under the age of five, causing them lifelong neurological, cognitive and physical impairment.
Childhood lead exposure has also been linked to mental health and behavioural problems, and to an increase in crime and violence, the report says.
According to the report, lead is estimated to cost lower- and middle-income countries, $1 trillion in lost economic potential of these children over their lifetimes.
UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said lead wreaks havoc on children’s health and development.
“With few early symptoms, lead silently wreaks havoc on children’s health and development, with possibly fatal consequences.
“Knowing how widespread lead pollution is – and understanding the destruction it causes to individual lives and communities – must inspire urgent action to protect children once and for all,” she said.
To tackle this menace, Richard Fuller, President of Pure Earth said lead can be recycled safely without exposing workers or people around the neighbourhood.
“The good news is that lead can be recycled safely without exposing workers, their children, and surrounding neighbourhood.
“Lead-contaminated sites can also be remediated and restored,” he said.
He noted that people can be educated about the dangers and also be empowered to protect themselves and their children.
“The return on the investment is enormous: improved health, increased productivity, higher IQs, less violence, and brighter futures for millions of children across the planet,” he said.
The report also recommends that governments in affected countries take a coordinated approach to building monitoring and reporting systems and installing prevention and control measures.
“Equipping health systems to detect, monitor and treat lead exposure among children is essential, the report says.
“Continuous public awareness campaigns targeted at parents, schools, community leaders and health care workers are needed, as is legislation to enforce environmental, health and safety standards for lead-acid battery manufacturing and recycling sites.”