Bangladesh is severely impacted by informal and substandard used lead acid battery (ULAB) smelting and production facilities and such practices have resulted in widespread exposures among children. The current mean children’s Blood Lead Level is 7.6 μg/dL in Bangladesh. Some 28 million children (62% of children under 14) are estimated to have blood lead level above 5ug/dl, and 21 million children (46% of children under 14) above 10ug/dl. The economic cost of lead exposures in Bangladesh is estimated to be US $15.9B annually, which is roughly equal to half the economic output of the textile and clothing manufacturing sector.
28 million children under age 14 have elevated blood lead levels.
Pure Earth has conducted 270 assessments of lead-contaminated sites in Bangladesh, nearly all of which are the result of informal ULAB smelting. The data from these assessments has been shared broadly among stakeholders and has been featured in the Bangladesh country environmental assessment reports of both the World Bank and USAID, which has raised the profile of the issue nationally and brought new partners to the table. Pure Earth now helps coordinate a broad and growing coalition of stakeholders working on lead issues in Bangladesh.
In 2018, Pure Earth completed the first known lead remediation in Bangladesh in the community of Kathgora, which resulted in a 40% decline in children’s blood lead levels (nearly to the estimated background BLL). Pure Earth is designing a second remediation to take place in the fall of 2020 in collaboration with the Dutch environmental engineering firm Tauw.
In 2016, Pure Earth with local partner in Bangladesh, the University of Dhaka, began identifying toxic hot spots. Within just 6 months, they found 115 sites, then growing to 270 assessed toxic sites. Based on this data, the World Bank estimates there are more than 1,000 such informal ULAB smelting sites across the country.
One of those sites, in the community of Kathgora, stood out as an exceptional candidate for a demonstration lead risk-reduction project due to the high concentration of lead in surface soils, the fact that children played directly on lead-contaminated waste, and the project’s capacity to serve as a proof-of-concept for replication by the government of Bangladesh. The Kathgora project aimed to dramatically reduce lead exposures for the 300 residents, including 90 children under age 7.
Two plots of land where workers broke apart and smelted hundreds of car batteries over several months were cleaned up with contaminated materials removed or buried. All homes and structures in the village were decontaminated and walkways were scraped and capped with bricks or clean soil.
- Bangladesh Department of Environment
- University of Dhaka
- Oak Foundation
Blood lead testing before and after the intervention showed levels reducing in children and adults.
- Lead Cleanup in Kathgora
- Report on Chemical Contamination; Health and Pollution Action Plan
- TSIP Training Dhaka
Read more about our work in Bangladesh:
- Children’s Lead Levels Fall Following Cleanup (September 2019)
- Looking for Lead? No Problem! (June 2017)