Solve pollution. Save lives. Protect the planet.

Lead poisoning is affecting children on a massive and previously unknown scale. Pure Earth implements solutions to lead pollution, and advocates for action to protect children, enabling them to reach their full potential.

Lead Poisoning: Understanding The Problem

Lead Poisoning Affects 1 in 3 Children  

As many as one third of the world’s children, about 800 million globally, have blood lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the level at which requires action.

This was the finding of The Toxic Truth report from UNICEF and Pure Earth, which sounded the alarm on global childhood lead poisoning, and prompted an urgent call to action to protect children from lead exposure.

Learn more: 

90% of children with high lead levels are in low- and middle-income countries.

Sources of Lead Poisoning Exposure

Informal used lead-acid battery recycling
Informal used lead-acid battery recycling

A leading source of lead poisoning of children in low- and middle-income countries is the informal and substandard recycling of lead-acid batteries. In these countries, up to 50% of lead-acid batteries are processed informally.  This process, conducted with little to no environmental controls, often in residential areas, results in severe pollution and lead poisoning of local children.

Lead-glazed pottery and metal cookware
Lead-glazed pottery and metal cookware

Lead-glazed pottery crafted by traditional artisans is commonly used to cook and serve food in  homes across Mexico, causing lead to leach into the food.

Our researchers have recently uncovered that lead is being added to low-cost, locally made aluminum cooking pots in over a dozen low and middle-income countries, resulting in another source of lead exposure.

Spices
Spices

The practice of adding lead-based pigments to enhance the color and weight of spices is occurring in several countries.

Some of these contaminated spices find their way into kitchens worldwide through the global food supply chain.

Consumer Reports released an alarming study that found high levels of toxic heavy metals in 126 brands of spices sold in U.S. supermarkets. 

Other Lead Poisoning Sources (Paints, Cosmetics, Toys, etc.)
Other Lead Poisoning Sources (Paints, Cosmetics, Toys, etc.)

Lead-based paints remains unregulated in about half the world. Young children are exposed to lead from peeling paint chips and from lead dust.

Other consumer items such as toys, traditional medicines, pipes and cosmetics such as eyeliners (kohl, kajal, and surma) have been found contaminated with lead.

Understanding the Impact of Lead Poisoning

Lead Poisoning: Health Impact

Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurological, hematological, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and renal systems.

Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning due to their smaller size and higher rates of lead absorption. Lead poisoning has been associated with:

  • brain damage, reduced IQ, decreased intelligence
  • learning difficulties
  • lower lifetime earnings
  • increased incidence of heart and kidney disease later in life
  • increased tendency for violence

In adults, lead exposure causes a significant burden of disease as well. In 2019, at least 900,000 premature deaths globally, or 1.6% of all deaths, were attributable to lead poisoning—a similar number to deaths caused by HIV/AIDs. 

In pregnant women, lead exposure can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight.

Lead Poisoning: Economic Impact

From an economic standpoint, childhood lead exposure and the resultant intelligence degradation costs the global economy more than $1 trillion dollars in GDP annually (2020 dollars).

Implementing Solutions to Lead Poisoning

Pure Earth’s proven 5-phase approach to solve global childhood lead poisoning was developed from experience gained from conducting over 50 projects to mitigate lead exposures in a range of low and middle-income countries.

Pure Earth’s 5-Phase Solution to Lead Poisoning

1. HEALTH SURVEILLANCE

Conduct baseline BLL (blood lead level) testing and analysis to understand prevalence, severity and location of exposure.

2. SOURCE ANALYSES

Conduct a series of source analyses to determine the most significant sources of exposure.

3. SOURCE-SPECIFIC INTERVENTIONS

Design and implement interventions to reduce the use and/or release of lead in products and industrial processes.

4. COMMUNICATIONS

Disseminate findings to inform and build support with governments and funders for action.

5. COUNTRY-LED IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGY

Support the implementation of strategies and programmatic approaches within Ministry operations.

COUNTRIES

Pure Earth is working to address lead poisoning in these focal countries under the Global Lead Program:  Bangladesh, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Georgia and Ghana.

Priority countries on a “watch list” due to high levels of lead poisoning  are Zambia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Pakistan, and Nigeria.  These remain a priority for program expansion if and when additional resources are secured.

Program Highlights

Blood Lead Level Testing
Blood Lead Level Testing

Blood lead level testing and analysis is crucial to understanding the prevalence, severity and location of exposure. Pure Earth has developed a model to launch national childhood lead monitoring programs using a country’s existing health survey infrastructure to collect lead exposure data.  To date this model has been used in the Philippines, Mexico and the Republic of Georgia.

In addition, with support from Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited, Pure Earth is working to strengthen expertise in national healthcare systems to prevent, identify, and treat lead poisoning in 5 priority countries: Colombia, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan and Peru.  Learn more

Source Analysis: Rapid Market Screenings in 25 Countries
Source Analysis: Rapid Market Screenings in 25 Countries

Pure Earth assesses consumer products, environmental media, and homes to identify the primary sources and exposure pathways that likely contribute most significantly to lead poisoning.

In 2021, Pure Earth launched the Rapid Market Screening project in 25 countries. Supported by a grant from GiveWell, the ambitious effort is investigating markets worldwide for lead, sampling items ranging from spices to medicines, cosmetics, toys, ceramics, aluminum cookware, paints, sweets and more. The data collected will help governments protect their citizens by keeping pollution out of homes and kitchens.

Risk Mitigation and Interventions
Risk Mitigation and Interventions

Pure Earth remediates polluted communities, supports countries in developing and implementing strategies and programmatic approaches, and integrates communications such as education and awareness-raising training to inform stakeholders.

Pure Earth Is A Global Leader In Addressing Lead Poisoning, Reducing Children’s Exposures 

    Pure Earth has been acknowledged as a leading organization addressing global childhood lead poisoning. In their Global Lead Exposure report, think tank Rethink Priorities evaluated the impact of Pure Earth’s work and confirmed the effectiveness of our approach and programs.

    If one wanted to fund direct lead exposure work this year, we would recommend Pure Earth. They appear to be the only organization that both specializes primarily in reducing lead exposure and takes a comprehensive approach to the issue. - Global Lead Exposure report, Rethink priorities, May 2021

    Success Stories:

    Republic of Georgia: Why do 41% of children in the country have elevated blood lead levels? See how Pure Earth helped to unraveled the mystery.

    Senegal: See how one community emerged out of a deadly lead rush.