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Lead poisoning affects 1 in 3 children worldwide. Pure Earth implements solutions to lead pollution, and advocates for action to protect children, enabling them to reach their full potential.

Program Highlights: Lead Poisoning Solutions

Health Surveillance
Health Surveillance

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,  Pure Earth launched Strengthening Health Systems to Reduce Lead Exposure in 2023 with support from Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited. The project is partnership between Pure Earth and the Ministries of Health in Colombia, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Maharashtra, India, and Peru to strengthen each country’s national healthcare system to better prevent, identify, and treat lead poisoning.

Source Analyses
Source Analyses

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 Rapid Market Screening (RMS) program is a novel, wide-reaching assessment of lead (Pb) contamination in more than 5,000 samples of consumer goods and foods from markets across 25 low- and middle-income countries.

Source-Specific Interventions
Source-Specific Interventions

Pure Earth designs and implements interventions to reduce the use and/or release of lead in products and industrial processes.

In addition, 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.

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 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.


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 Impacts of Lead Poisoning

Health Impacts

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, and 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.

Economic Impacts

The global financial cost of lead exposure is US$6 trillion (2019), equivalent to 7% of global GDP. In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), these costs accounted for more than 10% of GDP, or twice as high as in high income countries (HICs).

More than three-fourths of the economic cost (77%) was due to cardiovascular disease deaths and associated income loss from premature mortality; nearly one-fourth of the economic cost (23%) was due to estimates of lower future income caused by IQ loss.

Implementing Solutions to Lead Poisoning

Pure Earth’s 5-Phase Approach to Solving 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.

Our Global Presence

Pure Earth prioritizes local knowledge and solutions. Pure Earth is working to address lead poisoning in these focal countries under the Global Lead Program: BangladeshColombiaGeorgiaGhanaIndiaIndonesia, Kyrgyzstan, MexicoPeru, and the Philippines.

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.

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.

    Spotlight on Spices

    Solving a Toxic Mystery

    Eliminating Lead-Contaminated Spices in Georgia

    In 2019, Georgia faced a childhood lead poisoning crisis. A MICS survey revealed that 41% of children ages 2-7 in the country had blood lead levels at or above 5 μg/dL (the level at which the CDC recommends intervention). This was a staggering discovery. Even small doses of lead in children can slow development and cause learning disabilities, among other dangerous health effects.

    The Georgian government worked with Pure Earth to better understand the source of the widespread lead poisoning. In under two years, government and Pure Earth investigators were not only able to identify the source – lead in spices – but also help stop the flow of contaminated spices into Georgian markets almost completely. Read more on the blog.