Lead is a toxic metal in the globe. It is one of the most ubiquitously spread toxic metals due to thousands of years of use in many applications. It has been used in paints, gasoline, cosmetics, stained glass, ammunition, toys, various other materials, and recently found in spices especially in turmeric and chilli powder. It was banned for use in paints in developed countries many years ago but continues to be a problem in low-income countries with chipping paint that has not been properly remediated.
People are exposed to lead through: soil contaminated with lead or food cultivated in it; lead water pipes or those soldered with lead, which can leach into the water supply; some canned goods, if the cans are soldered with lead; paint on some imported toys and lastly, battery lead. Lead can make its way into the body from anywhere, it can be from the air, soil, water and even from some homes. The leading cause of lead poisoning in children living in Bangladesh and similar countries is the subpar recycling of lead-acid batteries.
For many years, environmental lead has been known to be a health and developmental hazard for young children. Lead is more dangerous to children than adults. Because it can harm the developing brain, causing reduced intelligence, learning disabilities and behavioural problems, school attention deficit disorder, and learning disabilities. The major exposure to Bangladesh has been lead gasoline. All of Bangladesh's fuel centres have been converted to lead-free gasoline, people should not be having exposure to it. Although an ideal blood lead level (BLL) is zero, recent studies indicated the national mean BLL among Bangladeshi children below 19 years of age is estimated to be 7 μg/dL. This level is associated with a loss of major intelligence among children. Bangladesh is estimated to have the 4th highest rate of death attributable to lead exposures globally.
The toxic truth is children's lead exposure can potentially impact children's growth and intelligence potential. Therefore there is utmost need to mitigate lead exposure by enhancing awareness and appropriate disposal. One of the most important things we can do to decrease children's exposure to lead in Bangladesh and similar countries is to ensure lead is no longer used in household and other paints to which children may be exposed (such as paints on playground equipment) and appropriate way of disposing lead-containing batteries. In developing countries, awareness of the public health impact of exposure to lead is growing but relatively few of these countries have introduced policies.
A variety of interventions may be recommended, including improved nutrition, correction of iron deficiency, family education, chemical chelation, and attempts to remove lead sources from the child's environment. Therefore we need continued investment in the reduction of lead exposure across the globe.
Dr Mahfuzar Rahman is the Country Director of Pure Earth, Bangladesh.