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Pure Earth is a global leader in reducing children’s exposures to lead.  Over the past 15 years, it has assessed thousands of contaminated sites, published groundbreaking research, and demonstrated solutions in more than 50 affected communities. Most recently Pure Earth and UNICEF released a groundbreaking report, The Toxic Truth, revealing for the first time that 1 in 3 children around the world are lead poisoned and outlined evidenced-based solutions. Now is the time to put these proven solutions to work and scale up.

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In 2021, Pure Earth was acknowledged as a leading organization addressing the global childhood lead poisoning crisis, and our Global Lead Program received critical praise. 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

Realizing Children’s Full Potential by Ending Lead Poisoning

With support from Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited, Pure Earth will be strengthening expertise in national healthcare systems to prevent, identify, and treat lead poisoning in 5 priority countries. Takeda has awarded JPY 1 billion (~$7.5 million USD) to Pure Earth to help protect children in Colombia, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan and Peru from lead poisoning. Today, 1 in 3 of the world’s children have enough lead in their blood to cause permanent brain damage, yet many countries lack systems and technical capacity to effectively address it. By strengthening countries’ health care systems and training health professionals to identify, monitor, treat and reduce childhood lead exposure, while educating parents, teachers and schoolchildren, this five-year program will enable these children to reach their full potential.Learn more.

Rapid Marketplace Screenings in 25 Countries

In 2021, Pure Earth launched an ambitious project, supported by the grant from GiveWell, to conduct regional Rapid Marketplace Screenings (RMS) for lead in 25 countries. Using a protocol that allows quick collection of data, Pure Earth will deploy global teams to investigate markets worldwide. They will sample items ranging from spices to medicines, cosmetics, toys, ceramics, aluminum cookware, paints, sweets and other items. The data collected will help governments protect their citizens by keeping pollution out of homes and kitchens.

Geographic Focus

The focal countries in the Global Lead Program are 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.

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 peeling 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

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

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

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

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.

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Our project teams have carried out projects to reduce contamination in whole villages (Vietnam, Philippines, and 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.

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

Lead in cookware
and spices.
Informal recycling
of car batteries

Watch stories from the field:

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

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

Bangladesh: Watch the story of one woman’s struggle and hope for her children.

India: Learn how Pure Earth helped one village begin to address severe lead pollution.

Dr. Howard Hu, Pure Earth board member, explains the latest related to the science surrounding lead exposures:
“Assessing and Addressing Lead Exposure in Low- and Middle-Income Countries”