Program Highlights: Lead Poisoning Solutions
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.
Sources of Lead Exposure
Understanding the Impacts of Lead Poisoning
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.
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: Bangladesh, Colombia, Georgia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Peru, 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
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.