By: Kazeem Biriowo
A new report released by UNICEF on Thursday, says one third of the world’s children, about 800million, are exposed to lead poisoning.
The report launched by UNICEF and Pure Earth and titled:The Toxic Truth: Children’s exposure to lead pollution undermines a generation of potential, states that affected children have blood lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), a level at which requires action.
The agency in a statement, said the report is an analysis of childhood lead exposure undertaken by the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation (IHME) and verified with a study approved for publication in Environmental Health Perspectives.
It said the informal and substandard recycling of lead-acid batteries is a leading contributor to lead poisoning in children living in low and middle-income countries, which have experienced a three-fold increase in the number of vehicles since 2000.
“The increase in vehicle ownership, combined with the lack of vehicle battery recycling regulation and infrastructure, has resulted in up to 50 per cent of lead-acid batteries being unsafely recycled in the informal economy.
“Workers in dangerous and often illegal recycling operations break open battery cases, spill acid and lead dust in the soil, and smelt the recovered lead in crude, open-air furnaces that emit toxic fumes poisoning the surrounding community. Often, the workers and the exposed community are not aware that lead is a potent neurotoxin,” it says.
Other childhood lead exposure, according to the report, include; lead in water from the use of leaded pipes; lead from active industry, such as mining and battery recycling; lead-based paint and pigments; lead solder in food cans; and lead in spices, cosmetics, ayurvedic medicines, toys and other consumer products among others.
It added that:”Parents whose occupations involve working with lead often bring contaminated dust home on their clothes, hair, hands and shoes, thus inadvertently exposing their children to the toxic element.”
On the effects of lead exposure in children, the report noted that this heavy metal is a potent neurotoxin which causes irreparable harm to children’s brains.
Particularly, it said this is destructive to babies and children under the age of five as it damages their brains before they have had the opportunity to fully develop, 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 of crime and violence. Older children suffer severe consequences including increased risk of kidney damage and cardiovascular diseases in later life,”the report says.
“The good news is that lead can be recycled safely without exposing workers, their children, and surrounding neighborhoods. Lead-contaminated sites can be remediated and restored,” said Richard Fuller, President of Pure Earth.
“People can be educated about the dangers of lead and 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 added.
It said while blood lead levels have declined dramatically in most high-income countries since the phase-out of leaded gasoline and most lead-based paints, blood lead levels for children in low- and middle-income countries have remained elevated and, in many cases, dangerously high even a decade after the global phase-out of leaded gasolines.
The report featured five countries as case studies where lead pollution and other toxic heavy metal waste have affected children.
These are Kathgora, Bangladesh; Tbilisi, Georgia; Agbogbloshie, Ghana; Pesarean, Indonesia; and Morelos State, Mexico.
The report noted that governments in affected countries can address lead pollution and exposure among children by adopting monitoring and reporting systems which include building capacity for blood lead level testing, prevention and control measures,
management, treatment and remediation.
Others are:Public awareness and behaviour change, legislation and policy including developing, implementing and enforcing environmental, health and safety standards for manufacturing and recycling of lead acid batteries and e-waste, and enforcing environmental and air-quality regulations for smelting operations.