Pure Earth has successfully increased Protecting Every Child’s Potential (PECP) project funding by US $8.2 million since the initiative was launched—a 55% expansion of the total resources under PECP and a near 1:1 match of the grant Clarios Foundation made to Pure Earth. This new funding allows Pure Earth to expand PECP’s work into India and the Philippines. Most of this growth comes by way of a new US $8 million grant facilitated by the well-respected charitable research organization GiveWell. GiveWell was introduced to the impacts of lead exposure by the Toxic Truth report and subsequently hired the philanthropic think tank Rethink Priorities to research the most effective ways to reduce exposures. The resulting report specifically recommended funding Pure Earth due to our holistic approach and effectiveness. In the spring of 2021, GiveWell and Pure Earth jointly designed an $8 million portfolio of projects to be funded by GiveWell’s affiliated donors and placed under the umbrella of PECP. The grant began in August 2021, and focuses primarily on reducing lead exposures from spices, cookware and other household sources through regional Rapid Marketplace Screenings (RMS) and blood lead level testing. In addition to placing the project under the PECP umbrella, GiveWell has indicated that it is willing to be affiliated with PECP as an organization.
Pure Earth has also secured contributions from USAID, HSBC, and Meridian Bioscience (as well as Clarios Foundation) to facilitate representative blood lead level testing of children and pregnant women in the Philippines under the banner of PECP.
Global Advocacy, Education, And Awareness
Raising awareness on a global scale is crucial in our mission to protect children from lead exposure. Advocacy is fundamental to Pure Earth’s mission and mandate to reduce pollution worldwide, and is what led to the creation of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) in 2012. GAHP joined PECP as a partner in 2021. Since then, GAHP has conducted more than 118 meetings with key stakeholders focused on reducing lead exposures from substandard and illegal used lead acid battery (ULAB) recycling and other sources. One notable result of GAHP’s advocacy is that the European Parliament’s new Zero Pollution Action Plan highlights health impacts of lead exposure for children and calls for the EU to create a global initiative to eliminate informal and illegal ULAB recycling. GAHP has also markedly increased interest in reducing lead exposure within the G20, UN family, and among key bilateral donors. Notably, GAHP continues to expand the focus of these organizations beyond lead-based paints to include informal and illegal ULAB recycling. GAHP prepared three regional workshops to raise awareness of lead exposure challenges with WHO in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia during International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week in late October 2021.
Most recently, the Swiss Government sponsored a resolution for adoption at UN Environment Assembly 5 in Nairobi on chemicals and waste. GAHP advocated hard to ensure pollution and health were included in that resolution with the hope that a Science-Policy Panel to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and waste and to prevent pollution (SPP) would do for pollution what IPCC and IPBES do for climate change and biodiversity, namely, focus global public opinion on the urgent need for action and solutions to the global pollution crisis. In December 2021, GAHP’s efforts bore fruit with the marked inclusion of pollution in the resolution scope. Pure Earth and GAHP believe that promoting the SPP and focusing its efforts on the health consequences of pollution – including those associated with lead poisoning – is an important opportunity to promote a global response to pollution – and lead pollution in particular. GAHP’s advocacy efforts will continue to ensure that the Ad hoc Open-Ended Working Group (ADOEWG), which will negotiate terms, government structure, budget, and work streams of the SPP, will reflect the scope and priorities that GAHP understand are essential to tackling pollution, especially within low- and middle-income countries.
With the support of GiveWell and Pure Earth, GAHP has founded the Global Lead Forum (GLF). The purpose of the Forum is to provide an open, global platform for knowledge-sharing and exchange by a wide variety of actors working on lead. Open to anyone who is interested in presenting on their work or learning about initiatives worldwide, the Forum works to encourage cross-fertilization and awareness-raising on this neglected issue. The completion of the website and first Forum meeting are anticipated for Spring 2022.
In addition to the work carried out by GAHP, Pure Earth has conducted extensive PECP communications activities, including the production of videos, fact sheets, press releases, and social media and blog posts. Pure Earth has also facilitated media coverage, not only around the PECP launch, but throughout the year from a variety of notable news outlets.
Global Projects to Reduce Lead Exposure
The illegal and substandard recycling of used lead acid batteries (ULABs) has been identified as a source of significant levels of environmental lead pollution and is suspected of being a contributor to high blood lead levels found in children in Bangladesh. Through the support of Clarios Foundation, Pure Earth has grown its capacities and operations in Bangladesh considerably and has made important progress. Pure Earth completed a detailed Country Assessment Report and PECP Implementation Plan, convened coordination groups and workshops to advance common lead exposure-reduction strategies, published a variety of articles in newspapers and scientific journals, and conducted field work to advance a lead remediation project in a contaminated village.
In addition to Clarios Foundation support, Pure Earth’s Bangladesh office has active grants that advance PECP goals from USAID, Oak Foundation and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO). While the PECP scope of work focuses on in-person and field-based activities that were made difficult by COVID, the grants from USAID, Oak, and FCDO focused on desk-based activities and Pure Earth has taken advantage of these grants to activate the Government and other actors around PECP goals. The office developed a Lead Pollution and Health Roadmap in collaboration with the Department of Environment and Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bangladesh and organized a virtual workshop entitled ‘Advancing a Lead Pollution and Health Roadmap for Bangladesh’. The office assessed and developed a risk reduction work plan for one of two proposed lead remediation sites in the contaminated town of Mirzapur.
In order to gain crucial understanding of key lead exposure sources, Pure Earth Bangladesh is conducting Regional Rapid Marketplace Screenings (RMS) to identify lead-containing products and prioritize future interventions. With support from GiveWell, 163 samples from marketplaces so far have been tested, including spices, rice, cookware, pottery, traditional medicines, cosmetics, paint, and toys, among other items.
Pure Earth has opened and staffed a new office in Georgia. The team completed a Country Assessment Report laying out all known information about lead sources, exposures, and impacts, and designed a PECP Implementation Plan. Notably, the Georgia team has taken important steps toward the elimination of lead-adulterated spices in the country, a key goal for the program. The best available data suggests that elevated blood lead levels found in Georgian children are, in large part, the result of spice producers adding lead chromate to improve color. Under PECP, Pure Earth has analyzed 264 spice samples from 77 vendors across the country to assess the current adulteration problem. We now know which facilities are adding this toxin to spices and are working with the National Disease Control Center, National Food Agency, National Environmental Agency, and UNICEF to eliminate this practice. The Georgia team has produced technical guidance materials, a public education brochure, and a training program for food safety regulators to advance this effort. Pure Earth has also initiated a national contaminated site assessment program to identify and address other sources of lead exposure, with eight contaminated sites assessed to date. The Georgia team has additionally formed a partnership with Tegeta Motors, a leader in the automotive parts and services industry in Georgia, to assess the end of life management of ULABs.
Pure Earth has opened, registered, and staffed a new office in Accra. The team completed a Country Assessment Report laying out all known information about lead sources, exposures, and impacts; has designed a PECP Implementation Plan; and has formed new strategic relationships with Ghana EPA, Ghana Poison Control Center, Kintampo Health Research Center, and Mountain Research Institute. In May of 2021, Pure Earth hosted an in-person training workshop for 30 representatives from environmental and health agencies from across the country. The training provided education about addressing lead exposure generally, as well as specific technical education regarding unsound battery recycling and the identification, assessment, and remediation of lead-contaminated sites. The team conducted assessments of 11 suspected lead-contaminated sites, including the Kpone municipal dumpsite, which receives lead slag from the Success Africa ULAB recycling plant. In October 2021, the office organized lead awareness activities for International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, with a focus on outreach at schools, health facilities and the media.
Pure Earth Ghana in partnership with the Mountain Research Institute has conducted assessments of 42 suspected lead-contaminated sites in and around Accra, including the Kpone municipal dumpsite. Pure Earth Ghana is conducting due diligence on four selected sites in order to carry out a Preliminary Site Assessment. Based on the results, two out of these four sites will be selected for Detailed Site Assessment after which an intervention will be done on the site that proves to have the best feasibility for an intervention. The team is also designing a national blood lead monitoring program in collaboration with UNICEF, the Ghana Health Service and the Ghana Standards Authority. In February 2022, the team officially established and inaugurated a Pure Earth club at the Tema Parents’ Association School. The goal is to inculcate in student members of the club an awareness of environmentally sound practices and lead poisoning. On Earth Day 2022, Country Director Elsie Appeadu was featured on TV news discussing Pure Earth Ghana’s work to combat lead poisoning.
In order to gain crucial understanding of key lead exposure sources, Pure Earth Ghana is conducting Regional Rapid Marketplace Screenings (RMS) to identify lead-containing products and prioritize future interventions. With support from GiveWell, 240 samples from 11 marketplaces have been tested so far, including spices, cookware, medicine, paint, toys, sweets, and ceramics/pottery, among other items.
Pure Earth’s long-standing office in India has established a new program under PECP, representing an expansion of PECP beyond the original five countries. Pure Earth India continued to focus on two state-wide programs in Bihar and Tamil Nadu. While Bihar has a significant presence of unsafe battery recycling & adulterated spices, Tamil Nadu ranks in the top three states with lead-exposed children. These programs are also endorsed by the national and state pollution control boards to reduce lead poisoning caused by a variety of sources and to build demand for replication.
The USAID and Stanford University co-funded “The North India Turmeric Supply Chain Investigation” with the aim of surveying the occurrence of spices reportedly adulterated with lead in select states in North India. 293 samples of spices (turmeric, red-chillies/red-pepper and coriander) were collected from various markets in 20 cities in Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal & Eastern cities in Uttar Pradesh and pre-screened for contamination levels with an XRF. The samples are awaiting laboratory analysis before Pure Earth India begins investigating the entire structure of supply-chains of spices and the adulterants further.
A desk-review report has been compiled with up-to-date information and available literature on the prevalence of lead levels in different household products as well as the BLLs in populations in five major states (Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal). The products include kitchen utensils, spices & condiments, ceramics cookware, medicines, cosmetics, food and other items. In the absence of effective screening and exposure prevention programs, people in India are getting exposed to Lead and are reportedly developing lead-related health complications. The desk-review report has been able to identify the research and data gaps in the select high-risk states for spurring action by the policy-makers.
Pure Earth India conducted the Rapid Marketplace Screening (RMS) in 20 markets from 10 cities in Tamil Nadu sampling a wide range of products possibly contaminated with Lead (Pb) which includes spices, ceremonial powders, sweets, herbal medicines, paints, plastic toys, metallic & earthen cookware etc. Approximately 480 samples have been collected and tested using the XRF and a fraction of the representative samples higher contamination levels have been sent to the laboratory for further analysis.
Pure Earth has completed a Country Assessment Report and PECP Implementation Plan, but has faced delays in other activities due to a particularly severe COVID situation and administrative challenges related to government approvals. The office provided technical assistance to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry for an analysis of gender roles and impacts in the context of ULAB recycling. The office is working with stakeholders to explore the possibility of establishing a national blood lead level surveillance program.
In late 2021, Pure Earth provided financial and technical support to the Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology (ITS) to implement the Toxic Site Identification Program (TSIP) on two main islands in Indonesia, namely Java and Sumatra. It is hoped that this activity will not only obtain data and information about the sources of lead pollution and the extent of its pollution in the environment, but also an overview of the used lead acid battery (ULAB) supply chain in Indonesia. The results of the TSIP will be used in developing strategic plans for risk reduction projects. ITS has reported the findings on Java Island to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in early December 2021. The findings on Sumatra Island are planned to be reported to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in spring 2022.
The primary source of lead exposure in Mexico is the use of ceramic cookware made with lead-based glazes. Pure Earth’s Mexico team has been extraordinarily active since the grant inception, despite COVID challenges. The team has established a new office, hired 12 additional employees, completed a Country Assessment Report and Implementation Plan, designed and implemented a new “Circle of Women” program to teach lead-free production processes to ceramics-producing communities, trained 285 potters in the use of lead-free glazes, conducted environmental assessments of 17 ceramics studios, built 7 new high-temperature kilns appropriate for lead-free ceramics, and wrote and published, “El Plomo en la Mesa”, a national report on lead exposure with feedback from the Mexico General Health Council. The Mexico office also launched a new data management tool that tracks dozens of metrics regarding lead use in pottery and related impacts, overhauled the website for the lead-free pottery campaign “Barro Aprobado” (barroaprobado.org) and partnered with Master Chef Mexico, Adrián Herrera Díaz, to promote lead-free pottery on TV.
In summer 2021 the team announced Mexico’s first “lead-free neighborhood” (Barrio con Barro) in the popular Mexico City neighborhood of Roma. Since then, the Pure Earth México team has recruited 16 restaurants and 5 shops to go lead-free. In October 2021, the Mexico team launched the “Lead-Free Food Alliance” (Alianza Comida sin Plomo), which seeks to involve the business sector, Civil Society Organizations and citizens in the development of a lead-free food industry. In February 2022, Pure Earth México signed a collaboration agreement with the Autonomous University of Querétaro (Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro) to establish strategies to address the problem of lead-glazed pottery production in the state of Querétaro. In March 2022, a peer reviewed paper prepared by Pure Earth Mexico in collaboration with Pure Earth International, the School of Public Global Health, the Mexican Social Security Institute, IMSS (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social), the National Institute of Public Health, INSP (Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública) and the Autonomous University of Morelos (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos) was published on Frontiers in Toxicology. The research conducted by Netzy Peralta, et al. demonstrates that blood lead levels of potters and their families decrease after the adoption of lead-free glazes in their production processes.
In an effort to raise awareness around lead poisoning and its solutions, Pure Earth Mexico broadcasted 13 interviews with potters who have adopted the use of lead-free glazes on the Professional Gastronomic Association of Mexico Facebook channel. The team has developed a fruitful partnership with Chef Graciela Montaño, who coordinated the first Pure Earth’s Kitchen Cookbook, launched in March 2022. The cookbook contains Mexican and Indian recipes that promote recipes made with lead-free pottery and spices. This was a collaborative project between the potters from “The Circle of Women” and celebrated Indian and Mexican Chefs such as Parvinder Singh Bali, Mónica Patiño, and others.
Pure Earth México is conducting the Regional Rapid Marketplace Screenings (RMS), with sampling in public markets in Mexico City where it is estimated that sweets and “moles” made in lead-glazed pottery are distributed and may contain traces of lead. Cosmetics and toys are also being tested.
Pure Earth’s long-standing office in the Philippines has established a new program under PECP, representing an expansion of PECP beyond the original five countries. Pure Earth’s Philippines office began a dialogue with national health agencies in 2020 to explore the possibility of including blood lead level testing in an upcoming national health and nutrition survey. The government expressed interest and requested Pure Earth’s help in acquiring the necessary equipment and training. In 2021, Pure Earth Philippines accomplished its Country Assessment Report and embarked on the first ever inclusion of blood lead level (BLL) testing in the National Nutrition Survey in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST FNRI). The survey aims to increase understanding of the status of lead poisoning in children in the country in order to make headway into exposure source identification, intervention development and implementation across concerned sectors. Pure Earth secured funding from USAID and Clarios Foundation, and negotiated significant discounts on LeadCare analyzers and test kits from Meridian Bioscience. These donors have agreed to place the program under the PECP initiative. The survey is being done in 13 areas, with over 3500 children and pregnant women combined. Despite setbacks due to the pandemic, it is expected to be completed in April/May 2022. In the same year, Pure Earth and the Philippine General Hospital’s National Poison Management and Control Center (NPMCC) also inked an agreement to screen children and adult patients for BLL. This will be set up in 2022 once Lead Care analyzers and kits are delivered.
Based on the findings of the blood lead level survey, Pure Earth will implement home-based assessments, exposure-reduction programs and work with the NPMCC to design a feedback and referral mechanism as well as a system to monitor blood lead levels at specific childhood developmental milestones.
Pure Earth Philippines also conducted the Rapid Marketplace Survey (RMS) in 8 markets from 7 cities/towns in Greater Metro Manila, testing a wide range of products possibly contaminated with Lead (Pb). Close to 600 samples from over 70 vendors were collected and are now being analyzed using XRF with some being sent to the laboratory for further analysis.