In 2021, Pure Earth launched an ambitious project to analyze the lead (Pb) content in thousands of products and food samples in markets across 25 low- and middle-income countries. The Rapid Market Screening (RMS) project is the first analysis of its kind that we are aware of.
The RMS project follows the 2020 publication of The Toxic Truth report by Pure Earth and UNICEF, which revealed for the first time that an estimated 800 million children, or 1 in 3, have blood lead levels indicative of lead poisoning (>5 μg/dl). This prevalence suggests that children worldwide are regularly exposed to lead in their daily lives, particularly in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Pure Earth investigators are collecting and analyzing a variety of common market goods, including samples of spices, metal foodware, ceramic foodware, plastic foodware, toys, paint, cosmetics, candies, common starch foods, and herbal/traditional medicines. The protocol for market screenings was informed by preliminary fieldwork and reviews of published literature on lead sources in each country. These detailed desk assessments were created for all 25 countries.
The selected countries and Indian states include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Egypt, Georgia, Ghana, the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, and Vietnam.
Support for this work comes from GiveWell, the Effective Altruism Global Health and Development Fund, and Open Philanthropy.
As of January 2023, more than 2,700 samples have been collected and analyzed in 15 countries and Indian states, including Armenia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Georgia, Ghana, the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Tajikistan, Tanzania, and Vietnam.
Pure Earth will complete the RMS in 25 countries in mid-2023 and anticipates adding results from Azerbaijan, Egypt, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, and an additional Indian state, although the final list of countries may change due to shifting feasibility constraints.
Pure Earth is presently conducting laboratory analyses on a subset of samples using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry to understand the correlations between XRF results and lab results. For aluminum foodware, Pure Earth is conducting leachate tests to improve our understanding of the relationship between total lead concentrations and potential doses from regular use. These findings will be included in a final publication.
Pure Earth intends to submit the full RMS findings to a peer-reviewed journal in 2023 and will disseminate the findings widely once published. The findings of this project will orient future research and intervention strategies focused on the most consequential lead exposure sources.
As of January 2023, Pure Earth India has conducted the Rapid Marketplace Screening (RMS) in 20 markets from 10 cities in Tamil Nadu, sampling a wide range of potentially lead-contaminated products, including spices, ceremonial powders, sweets, herbal medicines, paints, plastic toys, metallic & earthen cookware etc. Approximately 480 samples have been collected and tested.
Pure Earth Philippines has conducted the Rapid Marketplace Screening (RMS) in 8 markets from 7 cities and 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 analyzed using an XRF. A fraction of representative samples underwent laboratory analysis.
In Bangladesh, the RMS took place in four major districts: Dhaka, Rajshahi, Khulna, and Barishal. A desk review to summarize available information for Bangladesh was the first step in planning RMS data collection. The investigators visited markets, collected samples, and tested the samples with an XRF. A total of 367 samples were collected. Certain samples, such as vegetables, rice, and aluminum cookware, went through a laboratory leaching test. The RMS was conducted in collaboration with International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b).
Health Surveillance and Source Analyses
In addition to Rapid Market Screenings, Pure Earth offices in Bangladesh and the Philippines will assess pregnant women and children’s blood lead levels (BLLs) and collect household-based environmental samples to determine potential sources of lead poisoning.
Learn more about this work in Bangladesh and in the Philippines.