Global Lead Program

Today, public exposures to lead come primarily from the informal production and recycling of used lead-aid batteries (including motorbike, car and truck batteries); lead in paint, dyes, cookware and other household products; and lead contamination in food.

Pure Earth has conducted more than 1,000 field assessments of sites contaminated with lead.  Our strategies have proven effective in addressing lead contamination. Our approach includes:

  • Rapid Environmental And Health Risk Assessments
  • Site Prioritization And Project Selection
  • Detailed Environmental And Health Risk Assessments
  • Conceptual Site Modeling
  • Alternative Remediation Analysis
  • Remediation

Download our Global Lead Program guide to see strategies and more project examples.

Lead Project Examples:

Kabwe, Zambia (2014-Present)

In May of 2017, the cover story of the newspaper The Guardian labeled the city of Kabwe, Zambia, “The World’s Most Toxic Town.” Kabwe is the second largest city in Zambia, with a population of more than 200,000 people. For more than 90 years, lead mining and smelting in Kabwe created extraordinary pollution in both industrial and residential areas. Today, concentrations of lead remain high and pose severe health risks to local children.

In 2014, Pure Earth conducted a comprehensive environmental assessment in Kabwe to understand where the lead hotspots were located within the community and to identify relevant exposure pathways. Based on that assessment, Pure Earth developed a plan to conduct targeted cleanup and risk-reduction activities, including blood-lead level testing and remediation of high-risk areas, starting with the most severely contaminated neighborhoods.

Since then, Pure Earth and its local partners have remediated 80 residential yards contaminated with lead in Kabwe. This project consisted of capping residential soils and public areas, cleaning the interiors of homes, a robust public education and awareness campaign, and project monitoring and evaluation activities. The purpose of these activities was to reduce blood-lead concentrations of local residents and train community members and government employees to replicate and implementing this type of project in the future.

Additional information about the project is available here.

Dong Mai, Vietnam (2013-2014)

Dong Mai Village, Vietnam, was the site of a severe lead poisoning epidemic caused by contamination from decades of recycling of used lead-acid batteries. In 2008, an industrial area was constructed 1 km south of Dong Mai, and most recycling activities were relocated from residential areas to the industrial estate. However, because lead is very immobile in the environment, surface lead levels in residential areas of central Dong Mai remained dangerously elevated from past recycling activities. In 2013 and 2014, Pure Earth and its partners capped contaminated soil at 39 residential properties and public spaces.

After the remediation activities were complete, Pure Earth conducted environmental sampling in all of the remediated yards and found lead levels at or below 50 ppm in all yards (8x below the U.S. EPA standard for residential soil). In addition to environmental sampling, blood-lead levels were collected and analyzed from a total of 263 children before and after the project. Blood-lead levels in children age 0-5 decreased by an average of 72%, from a geometric mean of 39 μg/dL to 11 μg/dL.

Additional information about the project is available here.

Cinangka, Indonesia (2013-2014)

The village of Cinangka is a dense residential area with a history of lead contamination from numerous small-scale used lead-acid battery recycling facilities. In addition to these active operations, there are waste dumpsites in central community areas throughout the village. Prior to the involvement of Pure Earth, lead waste from former smelting activities in the Cinangka area was collected and disposed of in shallow burials and surface dumps around the village soccer field and the adjacent ravine. Between 2013 and 2014, Pure Earth managed a project to excavate 2,850 cubic meters of soil contaminated with lead. Pure Earth and its partners constructed a new hazardous waste containment facility under an existing football field in the town. The excavated waste material was disposed of in the facility and covered with a liner, limestone and clean soil.

Additional information about the project is available here.

Sovetskoe, Kyrgyzstan (2016 – 2017)

The town Sovetskoe, population 1,800, once had an active lead and zinc ore mining and processing operation. Although the industry is no longer active, high-levels of contamination remain from the decades of smelting.  The main risk factors in Sovetskoe are lead contaminated soil, dust, water, and local food. Additionally, people put themselves at risk in Sovetskoe by using contaminated sand from tailings for construction purposes.

The first stages of the cleanup began in September 2016 and the project completed around six months later.  The result was about 400 metric tons of contaminated soil removed from the area, and about 40 tons of clean soil and 45 tons of clean sand were brought in. Additional testing and monitoring has been, and will continue to be, done.

Before the intervention, the level of awareness of local people about lead health risks was extremely low. The residents were reluctant to believe in lead health effects. Only blood lead testing showed the local residents that exposure of children to lead was real. After this, most of the residents started cooperating in removing the contaminated sand from their yards. Most importantly now the majority of people in the area have stopped using contaminated sand for construction purposes.

Additional information about the project is available here.

Malambo, Colombia (2017 – 2018)

The residents of Malambo were exposed to lead poisoning for decades due to significant contamination from three former lead recycling operations. The Pure Earth cleanup project focused on excavating and disposing of contaminated soil along with house cleaning, community education, and blood testing.  When testing revealed that 50 children were sleeping on lead contaminated mattresses, Pure Earth worked to replace the mattresses of children with the highest blood lead levels.

Additional information about the project is available here.

Additional Projects

Related:

Recycling used lead-acid batteries: health considerations, WHO