One out of three children suffer from lead poisoning worldwide. While lead poisoning is widely known to be a health hazard, a new study concluded it affected a lot more children than previously perceived.
According to a new first-of-its-kind study conducted by UNICEF and Pure Earth, upwards of 800 million children suffer from lead poisoning worldwide. The report, The Toxic Truth: Children’s exposure to lead pollution undermines a generation of potential, reveals lead poisoning as a global problem that mostly affects children living in South Asia—India tallied the most cases with more than 275 million children having “dangerously high lead levels in their blood.”
“The unequivocal conclusion of this research is that children around the world are being poisoned by lead on a massive and previously unrecognized scale,” the study said.
The study’s findings were based on data collected from blood test results obtained from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington of thousands of children around the world.
Not only does lead poisoning have severe consequences for a child’s developing brain, it is also linked to behavioral problems and can eventually lead to kidney damage and cardiovascular conditions, according to Agence-France Presse (AFP).
“With few early symptoms, lead silently wreaks havoc on children’s health and development, with possibly fatal consequences,” Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, said in a statement to the United Nations. “Knowing how widespread lead pollution is—and understanding the destruction it causes to individual lives and communities—must inspire urgent action to protect children once and for all.”
The study determined that lead poisoning affects developing countries more so than developed countries because there are little to no environmental safeguards in place or, if there are any, they aren’t properly enforced. In these developing countries, lead was reported to be found in smelters, fires, car batteries, old paint, water pipes, electronic junkyards and cosmetics.
“As a result, as much as half of the used lead-acid batteries end up in the informal economy,” the report said. “Unregulated and often illegal recycling operations break open battery cases, spilling acid and lead dust onto the ground, and [there is] smelt lead in open-air furnaces that spew toxic fumes and dust that contaminate surrounding neighborhoods.”
The report’s found vehicle batteries to be the biggest culprit of lead exposure. And, aside from children, the report revealed that a million adults die prematurely from lead poisoning every year.
But the study believes that lead poison is solvable since it’s rare in developed countries.
“The good news is that lead can be recycled safely without exposing workers, their children and surrounding neighborhoods,” Richard Fuller, president of Pure Earth, said in an AFP report. “People can be educated about the dangers of lead and empowered to protect themselves and their children.”