A new analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimated the high concentrations of lead in the blood of 815 million children worldwide. Pure Earth, an international non-governmental organization that works on pollution and UNICEF jointly outlined the results.
IHME analysis also found that about 900,000 adults die each year as a result of lead poisoning.
According to IHME, 5 μg / dL or higher blood lead concentrations are a sign of danger. The WHO also believes that harmful effects begin to appear in children after this concentration level.
According to the report, children absorb a much larger proportion of lead than adults, which affects their developing brain and nervous system.
The analysis reported that children with blood concentrations higher than 5 μg/dL were likely to have decreased intelligence quotient scores and attention span. Such children may be at risk of aggression later in life.
“The link between lead exposure and future violence and criminality is pretty well established”, explains Pure Earth’s Richard Fuller, who co-authored the report.
“There are data from lots of countries showing a reduction in adolescent violence 15 years or so after the phase-out of leaded gasoline and a reduction in adult violence from 18 years after the phase-out”, he added.
“Lead exposure is a global problem with local solutions. The remedies may be different in every community”, Adrienne Ettinger, former chief of the Lead Poisoning Prevention and Environmental Health Tracking Branch at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
There are many potential sources of lead exposure such as paints and pigments. The greatest risk arises from cookware and spices, and recycling of used lead – acid batteries. And, there is no viable alternative to lead-acid batteries.
Countries such as the United States have strictly enforced rules for recycling used lead-acid batteries. But according to UNICEF and Pure Earth reports, it can be seen openly breaking batteries, and scattered lead and acid everywhere. In Bangladesh alone, there are 1100 informally used lead-acid battery recycling sites.
“We need to make it impossible for the informal sector to compete with the clean recyclers”, said Fuller. “If the formal sector can afford to pay more for used batteries than the backyard scrap merchants, and we have strong systems of enforcement and public education, then we can really start to reduce people’s exposure to lead”, he added.