Dong Mai Village, Chi Dao Commune, Van Lam District Vietnam was the site of a severe epidemic of lead poisoning. Blood tests carried out by the University of Washington in 2012 found 15 children with dangerous blood lead levels (BLLs) (≥ 65 ug/dl), 17 children at urgent levels (45 – 65 ug/dl), 70 children at overexposed levels (25 – 44 ug/dl) and 7 children at concerning levels (10 – 19ug/dl). The CDC maintains a level of concern of 5 ug/dl. Lead is an acute neurotoxin with serious implications for brain development and cardiovascular issues.
23 million children under age 14 have elevated blood lead levels.
The cause of the elevated BLLs was decades of informal car battery processing in the village. In this process, lead plates are removed from battery casings by hand and cleaned of lead oxide and sulfide dusts that have accumulated on their exteriors. These dusts are very fine and easily inhaled. Because they contain no inherent commercial value they are regularly discarded in area soils, where they come into contact with children.
In 2008, an industrial area was constructed by the Vietnam Environment Administration 1 km south of Dong Mai, and most battery recycling activity that had been polluting local homes was relocated. However, because lead is immobile in the environment, soil and home interior lead levels in Dong Mai remained dangerously elevated.
In 2013-14, Pure Earth implemented a solution involving community education, cleaning nearly 400 contaminated home interiors, covering of contaminated soils with compacted clean soil or cement to prevent exposure, construction of a clothes changing and shower facility for workers to prevent them from bringing lead back into their homes, individual home and yard testing and blood lead level monitoring. Pure Earth’s donation of $100,000 leveraged $555,000 from local government and citizens. Local authorities were also trained in environmental sampling and blood monitoring. The environmental assessments of the remediated yards found soil lead levels 8 times below US EPA standards. Blood lead levels of children decreased on average by 72%.
Finally, Pure Earth will assist the government to conduct a national assessment of toxic sites and other lead-contaminated villages throughout the country, and prioritize them for cleanups, providing a road map to implement relocation/remediation plans for these toxic industrialized villages throughout the country.
- Centre for Environment and Community Development (CECoD)
- Vietnam Environment Administration (CECoD)
- University of Washington
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Read more about our work in the Vietnam at the Pollution Blog