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Lead Exposure: Bangladesh 4th worst-hit in terms of affected children

  • Published at 09:15 am July 30th, 2020
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Representational photo Bigstock

Unicef, Pure Earth call for urgent action to abolish dangerous practices, informal recycling of lead acid batteries

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and Pure Earth have called for urgent action to abolish dangerous practices including the informal recycling of lead acid batteries, citing the fact that lead poisoning is affecting children on a massive and previously unknown scale.

Around one in three children -- up to 800 million globally -- have blood lead levels at or above five micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the level at which requires action. Nearly half of these children live in South Asia, according to a new global report launched on Thursday by Unicef and Pure Earth, the first of its kind.

In Bangladesh, it is estimated that 35.5 million children are affected with blood lead levels above 5 μg/dL, making the country the fourth most-seriously hit in the world in terms of the number of children affected.

“Lead exposure has severe and long-lasting health and development effects on children, including lifelong learning disabilities and their capacity to earn an income when they grow up. UNICEF will be working with the concerned actors to help address dangerous metal waste and lead pollution and the toll it takes on children,” said Tomoo Hozumi, Unicef representative in Bangladesh.

The report, 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.

In Bangladesh, illegal recycling of used lead-acid batteries in the open-air and close to homestead areas is considered to be a major source of lead exposure. This poses a significant health risk for both children and adults. According to the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation, Bangladesh has the world's fourth-highest rate of death due to lead exposure with an average population blood lead level of 6.83 μg/dL, which is the eleventh highest in the world.

The research also found that high concentrations of lead were found in spices in Bangladesh. Lead chromate, which is used to enhance colour and weight of turmeric as a sign of quality, contributes to the elevated lead blood levels in children and adults alike. According to one study, some concentrations exceeded the national limit by up to 500 times.

The report estimates that the economic loss due to lead-attributable IQ reduction in Bangladesh is equivalent to 5.9% of the country’s GDP. Lead poisoning hampers children’s ability to fully develop and prevents them from taking the maximum advantage of the opportunities in life.

“With few early symptoms, lead silently wreaks havoc on children’s health and development, with possibly fatal consequences,” said Henrietta Fore, Unicef Executive Director. 

“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.”

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