35.5 million children affected by lead poisoning in Bangladesh: Experts

According to experts, recycling of used lead-acid battery, adulteration of turmeric and industrial paints are among the major sources of lead exposure.


October 26, 2022

DHAKA – The situation regarding the blood-lead level in the children is very alarming in the country as its presence is found in all samples tested in a survey, conducted by the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR).

Lead was found in the blood samples of 980 children from four districts — Khulna, Tangail, Sylhet and Patuakhali.

According to experts, recycling of used lead-acid battery, adulteration of turmeric and industrial paints are among the major sources of lead exposure.

Speaking at the launch of the survey at a seminar in the capital, experts yesterday said over 35.5 million children in Bangladesh are affected by lead poisoning.

Calling for intervention from the authorities, experts warned that the country may face serious consequences if actions were not taken immediately as lead affects both mental and physical health of children.

Lead damagesbrain of children below five, causing lifelong neurological, cognitive, and physical impairment to them. It also causes heart diseases and strokes in adults. Exposure to lead damages the fetuses of pregnant women, the experts added.

According to the study funded by Unicef, around 65 percent of the 980 children had lead levels in their blood above 3.5 microgram per deciliter (µg/dL), which is above the reference value (3.5 µg/dL) set by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study was conducted between July and September on 124 households of the four districts.

The seminar titled “Lead Poisoning in Bangladesh: Research Evidence for Urgent Action” was organised jointly by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) and Unicef.

In her presentation, IEDCR Senior Scientific Officer Dr Nawroz Afreen said high lead level was found among children of all age groups.

“Children aged below five also had lead in their blood and some with values higher than the CDC cut-off value of 3.5 µg/dL.”

Nawroz presented the findings of some recent studies by other organisations.

Citing a 2022 survey by ICDDR,B, she said all 500 children of Dhaka city, whose blood samples were tested, were found to have lead in their blood.

“A total of 80 percent of the children had blood-lead level above 5 µg/dL, with an average blood-lead level of 7.6 mcg/dl and highest 36 µg/dL,” found the ICDDR,B study.

Pure Earth, a New York city-based international not-for-profit organisation, last year tested 367 items available in the markets of Bangladesh’s four cities and found the presence of lead in 96 of them.

“High level of lead was found in local toys, paints, aluminum and ceramic cookware, sweetener containers etc,” said the IEDCR official.

On the other hand, Environment and Social Development Organisation, a Bangladeshi NGO, in its recent study found lead in industrial paints.

“High lead content was detected in 50 percent of the samples of industrial paints tested,” she said.

Experts opined that the health sector is not fully prepared right now to respond to the health impacts of lead exposure.

The IEDCR research evidence suggested that there is an urgent need for building the health system’s capacity to fight against lead poisoning and to include it in the next Health Nutrition and Population Sector Programme.

The environment, forest and climate change ministry along with the health ministry can take the leadership role in prevention, control, and management of lead pollution in Bangladesh, the experts said.

Speaking at the programme, Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Shahab Uddin said the government is taking initiatives to protect people from lead pollution.

“The Department of Environment frequently conducts drives against illegal manufacturing and recycling of batteries. However, only enforcement of law may not bring the desired results. Rather, we need to create massive awareness,” he said.

About 85 percent of the total global lead use is found at battery factories while its use in paints and spices is also a great concern, Shahab Uddin added.

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