Last year, Pure Earth and UNICEF confirmed in The Toxic Truth report that lead poisoning is affecting children globally on a massive and previously unknown scale. The toll? 1 in 3 children globally (around 800 million kids) have elevated lead levels. Now, BBC’s Business Daily has followed up with a report, citing our research and solutions, on a major source of childhood lead poisoning in low and middle-income countries: the informal and substandard recycling of used lead-acid batteries.
The BBC podcast is just one of three currently in the news – Vox’s The Weeds and The Coming Clean Project are also spotlighting the lead issue, amplifying our call for urgent action to protect millions of children.
Listen Now: BBC Business Daily – The Dirty Business Of Old Car Batteries
On the BBC, Pure Earth’s Drew McCartor gets to the heart of the problem in low and middle-income countries, explaining the economics of informal battery recycling.
“The informal recyclers can often outbid the formal, safer recyclers for the used batteries, because they have such low overhead… the volume of batteries is driven into this informal sector so the solution here is not just about regulating these informal, illegal recyclers or increasing standards on the formal sector, but it’s about changing the incentives and dynamics that dictate how batteries flow through an economy.”
In Bangladesh, there are over 1,000 of these substandard battery operators around Dhaka. These operators often move from one unsuspecting village to the next once their polluting work start to draw complaints.
Pure Earth and local partners designed a cleanup project in Kathgora, Bangladesh, then hired and trained villagers to carry it out safely. We are also working on solutions to remove incentives that benefit this deadly informal sector, along with UNICEF and Clarios, as Adam Muellerweiss, Chief Sustainability Officer, Clarios, explains:
“…we have a unique opportunity to bring the best practices that we have established around the world to… responsibly manage batteries and to provide some resources through the Clarios Foundation to really support efforts in pilot countries with the intent to grow this into a much broader movement to address informal, illegal and substandard battery recycling.”
Listen Now: Vox’s The Weeds – There’s Lead In Your Turmeric
What is the next big global health issue the world should pay attention to? Vox’s Matthew Yglesias sat down with Rachel Silverman, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, to discuss their recent policy position calling for high-level political support from the Biden administration to elevate childhood lead poisoning in the global public health agenda.
Silverman acknowledges that lead paint and pipes remain an issue in the U.S., but is minor compared to the high lead exposure and harm to children in low- and middle-income countries from other sources. Referencing The Toxic Truth and many other Pure Earth resources, Silverman discusses the three lesser known but major sources of lead exposure: lead-acid battery recycling, contaminated spices, and lead-glazed pottery.
In the discussion, she recognizes that “Pure Earth does some of the only real global work in this space” being one of the few groups that have been “working to try and understand the sources of this problem, identifying toxic contaminated sites and helping to clean them up, helping to do some of this tracing, which is why we have any information on turmeric in the first place…”
She also acknowledges that the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution has been working “at the policy level but they don’t have the resources or the political attention to do all that could be done in this space, so it’s great to get more eyes and attention on (the issue).”
We agree and are looking forward to collaborating with the Center for Global Development.
Listen Now: The Coming Clean Project – “Worst Toxin In The World Right Now”
The Coming Clean Project’s new podcast features a deep dive into the “worst toxin in the world right now,” with hosts Jackie Bowen and Oliver Amdrup-Chamby discussing the issue with Pure Earth CEO Richard Fuller.
Even though lead kills over a million people a year worldwide, and causes a lifetime of damage and disability, the toxin is still allowed plenty of free reign, especially in low and middle-income countries. But in today’s global economy, Fuller warns, everyone is affected: “Sometimes smoke from smelters goes over farmlands nearby and that’s the sweet potatoes that goes into the (baby) food your child is eating.” In fact, a House Subcommittee investigative report on baby foods confirmed the extent of the problem, revealing dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals in a range of baby foods found on U.S. shelves.
What’s more, Fuller continues, buying “organic does not mean they test it for heavy metals.” As Pure Earth’s Pollution Knows No Borders report found, organic products were as likely to be contaminated. The only way to identify contaminated products seems to be to test them, as the Clean Label Project does.
The long term solution, Fuller explains is to “find where contamination is coming from and go fix it at source.”
In Bangladesh, where lead was being added to turmeric to give it a brighter hue, Fuller recounts how a Pure Earth team worked with the government to address the problem on the ground. They monitored the markets, tested turmeric for sale, traced the sources of contamination, and also educated the public on the problem.
“Before we did this 90% of the turmeric had lead in it. After we did this, a year and a half later, only 3% still had lead in it,” says Fuller.
Fuller concludes that the global problem needs localized solutions. Listen to the full episode to learn more about lead, understand how it enters our food chain, why it’s so dangerous, and what you can do in your community.