LEAD EXPOSURE / THE PROBLEM

A global health crisis affecting society’s most vulnerable members

Children around the world are exposed to lead daily

Hundreds of millions of children suffer due to lead poisoning.

Due to a lack of awareness of the harm and sources of lead exposure in areas where the risk of contamination is highest, children are unknowingly compromised each day. There are countless sources of lead poisoning – and a main concern is the informal recycling of lead-acid batteries which can also make its way into certain consumer products. In communities across the world – particularly in low- and middle-income countries – lead can be found throughout the environment in which children live: in the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat, and even in the soil they walk and crawl on.

The dangers to developing children

Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, absorbing 4–5 times as much ingested lead as adults from a given source.
The youngest children are the most at-risk. Children under the age of five are more likely to develop irreversible and lifelong physical, neurological and cognitive impairment – or even death – from lead exposure. The neurotoxin causes havoc in still-developing bodily organs and systems, impacting physical growth, hearing, kidney function and the development of blood cells. As lead exposure increases, the range and severity of symptoms and effects also increases. Among the scariest aspects of childhood lead exposure is that it is insidious and typically symptom-free, allowing damage to continue undetected for extended periods.
Children make mud pies with soil measured at 22,000 parts per million lead, the US EPA level is 400 parts per million lead

Lifelong impact on health and productivity

Lasting damage at even low levels
Lead is a potent neurotoxin that, with even low-level exposure, can reduce IQ scores, shorten attention spans and potentially cause violent and criminal behaviour later in life. Children under 5 years are at risk of lifelong neurological, cognitive and physical damage from lead poisoning. Older children and adults can suffer increased risk of cardiovascular death and kidney damage from prolonged exposure.
Economic impacts that last a lifetime
As the victims of lead exposure mature, further impacts are likely to be revealed including permanently lowered IQs, difficulties with learning, reduced attention spans, reduced lifetime earnings and increased antisocial behaviour and tendencies toward violent crime. Lead exposure still is a major contributor to children’s intellectual disability in lower- and middle-income countries, estimated to cost almost USD $1 trillion due to lost economic potential of these children over their lifetime.These impacts make lead exposure more than a health issue, but a critical threat to national economic development stemming from a reduction in the intellectual capacity of an entire country, and affecting every aspect of life there.

How children are exposed

Children are exposed to lead through multiple sources including inhaling fumes, eating contaminated food and even working in electronic waste dumps.

Lead exposure can happen in innumerable ways. The most common are breathing in dust or fumes containing lead and consuming tainted food and water. This exposure intensifies in proximity to informal and unregulated lead-acid battery recycling sites, a leading cause of lead poisoning. These often open-air facilities exist close to homes and schools, with children even sometimes on-site. In these facilities, smelting sends toxic fumes into the air and furnaces spill lead dust onto the ground. Parents who work at these sites bring contamination home on their clothes, shoes, skin and hair, exposing their children to the toxic substance.

What we are doing to help

We are educating communities and working with governments and service providers to prevent and address childhood lead exposure.

How you can get involved

We are seeking the help of donors, champions, advocates and supporters from across the world to help create a safer world for children. A future free from lead exposure.

Positive
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