India - Women sorting lead acid  
  car battery waste.  
  © Larry Price  
THE GLOBAL LEAD PROGRAM
Enabling All Children to Reach Their Potential

Pure Earth is a global leader in reducing children’s exposures to lead. By assessing thousands of contaminated sites, publishing groundbreaking research, and demonstrating solutions in more than 50 affected communities, Pure Earth has increased the global awareness of the issue and elevated it as a development priority. Now it is time to put proven solutions to work on a grand scale.

Pure Earth, Clarios Foundation and UNICEF have announced a global partnership to protect children from lead exposure. The Protecting Every Child’s Potential initiative will work to raise awareness of the impact of lead exposure on children’s long-term health and development and mobilize action to abolish dangerous practices that cause harmful lead exposure.

Understanding the Problem
Mass Lead Poisoning Of Children

Around the world, from villages in Central Java, Indonesia, to pottery studios in Morales, Mexico, hundreds of millions of children are being poisoned every day by lead. Unwittingly and with life-altering consequences, these children are growing up in harm's way, ingesting and inhaling dust from informal used lead-acid battery recycling operations, eating lead-infused spices and food contaminated by pottery with leaded glazes, living in homes with pealing lead paint, and working alongside their parents to salvage lead and other heavy metals from e-waste.

Explainer: What is informal ULAB recycling?

The impact of lead exposure on children is particularly devastating, causing

  • reduced intelligence
  • lower educational attainment
  • lower lifetime earnings
  • increased tendency for violence
  • increased incidence of heart and kidney disease

From an economic standpoint, childhood lead exposure and the resultant intelligence degradation costs the global economy more than one trillion of dollars in GDP annually (2020 dollars). In their seminal study published in 2013, Teresa M. Attina and Leonard Trasande extracted data from 68 articles published from 2000-2012 to calculate that childhood lead exposure would cost lower- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, and the Latin Americas and Caribbean almost $977 billion in annual GDP losses (1.1 trillion in 2020 dollars).

Pure Earth estimates that there may be over 12 million substandard or informal ULAB recyclers who are poisoning themselves, their children and their communities.

Implementing Solutions

Cleaning up lead pollution, protecting school children in Karlmalichak, India.
Video credit: Thomas Cristofoletti/USAID

With experience gained from conducting over 50 projects to mitigate lead exposures in a range of low and middle-income countries, we have developed a 5-phase approach to solve this problem:


Pure Earth's 5-Phase Solution

Find Lead Hot Spots icon

1. Find Lead Hot Spots

Work with governments and trained investigators to identify communities where severe lead poisoning is taking place

Measure and Educate icon

2. Measure and Educate

Measure lead levels in the soil, homes, schools and people’s blood. Educate the community about the dangers of lead and how to protect themselves and their children.

Relocate, Train and Cleanup icon

3. Relocate, Train and Cleanup

Relocate lead smelting and recycling operations out of residential neighborhoods into industrial zones; train recyclers on safe work practices; cleanup former workshops, homes and playgrounds where children are exposed to lead.

Modernize Industrial Practices icon

4. Modernize Industrial Practices

Work with governments, smelter owners and industry to bring industrial operations to modern, safe standards that protect workers and communities.

Measure Health Benefits icon

5. Measure Health Benefits

Continue to measure lead levels in soil and blood; monitor industrial practices to ensure an improved and sustainable public health benefit.


Our project teams have carried out projects to reduce contamination in whole villages (Vietnam, Philippines, others), in specific toxic hotspots, usually associated with substandard or informal lead-acid battery recycling (Indonesia, Senegal, Kenya, Uruguay, Bangladesh, and more), and at a national level where exposures are broad, usually from lead in pottery (Mexico and others). Projects to mitigate lead exposures have been successful at reducing blood lead levels with typical reductions at 60-70% within one year of an intervention.

Key Health Impacts

Lead exposure causes a significant burden of disease for adults as well: the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has estimated that in 2017, lead exposure accounted for 1.06 million deaths and 24.4 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs*) due to long-term effects on health. Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurological, hematological, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and renal systems.

Learn More About Our Project Work

India

68 million children under age 14 have elevated blood lead levels.

View Project

Map of India
68 million

Mexico

13 million children under age 14 have elevated blood lead levels.

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Map of Mexico
13 million

Bangladesh

28 million children under age 14 have elevated blood lead levels.

View Project

Map of Bangladesh
28 million

Vietnam

23 million children under age 14 have elevated blood lead levels.

View Project

Map of Vietnam
23 million

Kabwe, Zambia

100% of the 90,000 children under age 14 have elevated blood lead levels.

View Project

Map of Zambia
100%

Indonesia

45 million children under age 14 have elevated blood lead levels.

View Project

Map of Indonesia
45 million

Ghana

Estimates on lead exposures pending additional research.

View Project

Map of Ghana
To be determined

Georgia

41% of children under age 8 have elevated blood lead levels.

View Project

Map of Georgia
41%

Partnerships

Pure Earth works with global and local partners UN Environment, UNDP, World Bank, UNICEF, GEF, UNIDO, European Commission, Government of India, and various state agencies, governments of Zambia, Vietnam, Senegal, Indonesia, Philippines, Mexico, Jamaica, Peru, Uruguay, Tanzania, Kenya, Cambodia, and more.

In addition, collaborations with research agencies include IHME, University of Washington, Columbia University, Harvard School of Public Health, IIT Delhi, Simon Fraser University, Mt Sinai, AIT, Carnegie Mellon University and others.

Partnerships with local in-country NGOs and civil society groups are central to Pure Earth’s approach. Local stakeholder are hired and trained to participate in assessment and cleanups. These organizations number in the hundreds.