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Pollution Issues in Indonesia

Lead exposure is a significant environmental health threat to children in Indonesia. It is estimated that more than 36 million children (age 0 – 14 years) in the country have blood lead levels (BLLs) ≥ 5 µg/dL (Ericson et al., 2021). A recent study in the capital, Jakarta, found that 47% of children had BLLs ≥ 5 µg/dL and 9% had BLLs ≥ 10 µg/dL (Prihartono et al., 2019). Other studies have similarly documented long-term chronic health conditions faced by children in Indonesia exposed to lead regularly. A multi-country analysis further found that childhood exposure to lead costs the Indonesian economy nearly US$38 billion annually.

Unsafe smelting of used lead-acid batteries is a primary contributor to lead exposures, and a significant percentage of those batteries are recycled in the informal sector. Over the past decade, Indonesia has seen rapid development that resulted in associated effects such as the growth of car ownership and increased demand for lead-acid batteries. In 2018, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry recorded that the number of motorized vehicles reached 146,858,759 and could produce 575,000 tons of used batteries. While the five licensed used battery smelters have a capacity of 239,000 tons per year, there is a gap of 336,000 tons (58%) that the unlicensed used battery smelters will exploit. Initial site assessment by the Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember (ITS) in 2021 – 2022 has identified 95 lead-contaminated hot spots in Java and Sumatra Islands associated with ULAB recycling incl. Informal used lead-acid batteries (ULAB) collecting points, formal and informal ULAB smelters, and hazardous waste treatment facilities, and 70% are located in Java.

With over 200,000 Indonesians dying yearly from pollution-related diseases (IHME 2017), pollution has a huge health cost in Indonesia. There are many sources of contamination, from informal ULAB recycling operations to artisanal and small-scale gold mining. Pure Earth International provides financial and technical support to a local foundation named Yayasan Pure Earth Indonesia to carry out work in Indonesia, focuses on identifying where the worst pollution is through our TSIP initiative, and then implementing solutions where possible.

From awareness-raising about mercury hazards and training women miners on mercury-free techniques to remediating a lead-contaminated soccer field where children play, Pure Earth is working in communities to improve the health and well-being of children and families. Additionally, Pure Earth has supported regional governments and a local NGO named Yayasan Tambuhak Sinta in Kalimantan, Indonesia, to develop and implement a Health and Pollution Action Plan (HPAP).