Around 800 million children, mainly in developing countries, "will have had a risky exposure"
New research hasfound that one in three children worldwide has blood lead concentrations at levels that can cause significant long-term health damage.
According to the report, around 800 million children and young people under the age of 19have blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter (5 μg / dl) or more.
According to the World Health Organization, there is no safe level for lead exposure, because even at very low concentrations it works as a dangerous toxin,but the US Centers for Disease Control considers levels above 5 μg / dl to be a cause of action.
The findings, from research carried out by the Institute for Health Evaluation and Measurement, and published by UnicefThursday, they highlighted the continuing dangers to children from lead, which has been removed from common use in gasoline, paints and water pipes for decades.
"This is an absolutely shocking figure," said Nicholas Rees,Unicef policy specialist and author of the report. "We have known for a long time about the nature of toxic lead, but we have not known how widespread it is and how many children are affected."
Lead is aStrong neurotoxin and high exposure can kill, while lower levels cause symptoms ranging from pain, vomiting, and seizures to developmental delay, mental difficulties, and mood disorders. The lowest levelsthey can also cause children to be born prematurely.
According to the researchers, exposure at the levels studied is likely to cause reductions in cognitive ability, higher levels of violence, and long-term health impacts,like cardiovascular diseases.
Children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure because it damages the brain and developing nervous system, it builds up over time, and the impacts don't show up right away. Lead mimics calcium in bones,builds up in people's bodies and causes damage to other vital organs, including the kidneys, heart, and lungs.
Richard Fuller of Pure Earth, an NGO that collaborated with UNICEF on the report, said thePeople were less aware of the damage caused by lead, after campaigns to remove the toxin from many common uses in developed countries decades ago.
“We did an excellent job removing lead from gasoline [gasoline],but lead use has stagnated after falling in the 1970s and 1980s, ”he said.
Lead at 5 μg / dl of blood is likely to erase approximately 3-5 points from a child's IQ score, and at levels found in theUnicef report could double the level of violence in society, Fuller said. The risk of cardiovascular disease is also likely to increase, with about 900,000 deaths a year already linked to lead poisoning.
Fuller said that while lead levels may seem small, in all populations the damage was significant. "It means doubling the number of people with intellectual disabilities," he said. "It is definitely not a trivial topic."
He said that about 30 academic studies had linked elevated levels of lead to people's propensity for violent behavior, providing enough corroboration for scientists to establish a strong association.between continued lead contamination and its likely impacts on violence.
Scientists know more about the damage lead causes even in small concentrations than before. Until recently, the US considered levels above10 μg / dl was of concern, but they changed this to 5 μg / dl in 2012 as more evidence became available.
One of the main causes of lead poisoning is the disposal of car batteries,They use lead and acid to generate an electrical charge, and constitute 85% of the lead used globally. When disposed of safely, they pose little risk, but in many countries about half of car batteries are recycled withoutSafety precautions.
When this happens, large amounts of lead and lead compounds are spilled, poisoning people who come in contact with liquid and solid products and polluting the soil for years.
Another cause of lead poisoning is the use oflead compounds, such as lead oxide and lead chromate, as a food additive to make spices appear brighter in color. The compounds are used to make turmeric appear bright yellow, and it is sometimes used with paprika.The report found examples of its use in India, Bangladesh, Georgia, the Balkans, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
Children in developed countries are also at risk, due to sources such as old water pipes, lead paint and contaminated soil.In the US, children living in poorer homes and dilapidated accommodations have been found to be most at risk. In the UK, some 200,000 children are likely to be affected, according to Unicef.
The UK decided in 2018 not toLead level testing across the country, making it difficult to judge where children and adults are most at risk, and the UK still sees levels above 10 μg / dl in children and pregnant women as a cause for concern ,although that may change later this year.
Privatized water companies can replace lead pipes free of charge, but they are not required to find out if people are still getting lead pipe service, leaving manypeople without realizing the problem. Homeowners must pay for plumbing replacement on their own property, which may be out of reach for some people, and landlords are not required to do the same for tenants.
Ovnair Sepai,Public Health England lead toxicologist, said: “The estimate in this report has been calculated based on data from other countries, which means that it is unlikely to accurately reflect UK blood levels.
"The United Kingdomhas strict regulations for lead in food, water, cosmetics, toys, spices, and industry. Lead exposure in children has fallen dramatically in the UK since paint and petrol were banned, but risks remain,that can disproportionately affect children in disadvantaged areas ”.