SEATTLE — According to a recent report by UNICEF and Pure Earth, a nonprofit organization seeking to identify and solve pollution problems in the developing world, 800 million children globally are at risk because of high blood lead levels.
Potential Effects of Exposure
Lead exposure and poisoning have adverse effects, especially for children. Attacking the brain and nervous system, lead can leave children mentally and physically impaired, especially if they are exposed while under the age of five. There is no known “safe level” of lead toxicity in the bloodstream, and recent data shows that amounts as small as five micrograms per deciliter can have detrimental effects on a child’s development.
Of the millions of children that are affected by lead poisoning worldwide, half of that number is in southeast Asia. In low and middle-income countries, such as Bangladesh or Indonesia, the leading cause of lead poisoning is the unsafe handling of lead-acid batteries. In some cases, children are involved in the battery recycling process, requiring hands-on labor that is unsafe for children. Additional causes of lead poisoning can also be blamed upon old leaded pipes used for running water.
Efforts to Address Lead Poisoning Among Children in Developing Countries
Although the data is shocking and deserving of immediate attention and action, steps are being taken to ensure the safe handling of leaded materials and products. Richard Fuller, president of True Earth says, “the good news is that lead can be recycled safely without exposing workers, their children, and surrounding neighborhoods…lead-
In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) is ensuring the creation and establishment of guidelines and regulations concerning lead poisoning prevention. These regulations will be a resource and a guide for policy-makers and health authorities in protecting adults and children alike from lead exposure.
The WHO is also working to stop the use of lead paint, another leading cause in lead exposure, as many children’s toys are painted with lead paint. Working with the United Nations Environment Programme, the WHO has created the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, an international program seeking to halt the manufacture and sale of lead paint. According to WHO’s Road Map to enhance health sector engagement in the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management towards the 2020 goal and beyond, it was planned to eliminate lead paint by 2020.
Although sources do not yet confirm whether or not the elimination of lead paint has taken place, the WHO encourages individuals to become involved in International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, an initiative that has occurred for the past eight years.
As numbers of children in developing countries affected by lead poisoning continue to increase, it is vital that people across the globe are educated on lead exposure in their own communities as well as communities around the world. As organizations such as WHO, UNICEF and Pure Earth continue working to raise awareness and take action, the lives of millions of children could be saved.
– Kalicia Bateman