UNICEF Report on Lead Poisoning of Children

UNICEF recently published a report on Lead Poisoning of Children. The report revealed that around 1 in 3 children are affected by Lead poisoning on a “massive and previously unknown scale” at a global level.Lets’s learn.

UNICEF Report on Lead Poisoning of Children

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and a non-profit organization on pollution issues,Pure Earth jointly published a report- “The Toxic Truth: Children’s exposure to lead pollution undermines a generation of potential”.

Crux of The Report
  • One in out of three children are having blood lead levels at or above 5 micro-grams per decilitre (µg/dL)
  • The approximate number is estimated up to 800 million at global scale.
  • Almost 50% of these affected children are from South Asia.

The report was published based on a long term analytical study undertaken by Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation. The report features case studies in Kathgora of Bangladesh; Tbilisi of Georgia; Agbogbloshie of Ghana; Pesarean of Indonesia; and Morelos State of Mexico.

What is Lead?
  • Lead (plumbum or Pb) is a soft, silvery white or grayish metal.
  • Lead is highly durable,easily malleable and resistant to corrosion and it is poor conductor of electricity.
  • Lead is a potent neurotoxin which causes irreversible damage to children’s brains.

What is Neurotoxin?
Neurotoxins are  exogenous natural or artificial toxins that cause destruction to nerve tissue or nervous system.Some of the most common neurotoxins include lead, ethanol (drinking alcohol), glutamate, nitric oxide etc.
  • Lead is till widely used in a various industry including cosmetics, paint, solder, pipes and gasoline due to its industry friendly properties.
  • Due to its ability ability to absorb vibration, lead is also used as protective shield against different types of harmful radiation. That is why lead is used in such as those found in X-ray machines and nuclear reactors.
  • Lead is also widely used in lead-acid batteries, bullets and ammunition industry.
Children working at a battery workshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Image Source: United Nation

Impacts of Lead on Children
  • Lead is highly destructive for babies and children specially under 5 years. Lead is capable to cause lifelong neurological, cognitive dysfunction and physical impairment in babies and children.
  • Childhood lead exposure can delay physical and mental development in babies and young children.
  • Lead can trigger an mental fatigue and affinity towards crime and violence.
  • Most common Lead poisoning are due to chronic low-dose exposure. Symptoms take longer to develop due to such slow lead poisoning.
  • Slow accumulation of lead can cause kidney and nervous system damage, anemia even stroke or cancer in adults.
  • Children working in lead-battery factories generally develop early symptoms like abdominal pain, weight loss, vomiting etc.
How Does Lead Harm Brains?
Lead contamination potently inhibits the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDA) receptor, which functions an essential role in brain development and learning & memory in children and babies.
Need of The Hour

Childhood lead contamination would be a serious socio-economic threat as it is estimated to cost lower and middle-income countries almost USD $1 trillion to bring these children back into normal economic potential over their lifetime.

Government of lower and middle-income countries should primarily focused on these steps

  • Monitoring and reporting systems of blood lead level testing should be launched in an urgent basis.
  • Prevention and strict control of children’s movement to high-risk zones like certain ceramics, paints, lead-acid battery factories should be taken.
  • Treatment and remediation of affected children in high-risk zones along with economical support should be provided.
  • Public awareness campaign and public education about the menace and sources of lead exposure among the parents, schools, community leaders and healthcare workers should be promoted.
  • Global and regional actions like creating international standards and norms in manufacturing, recycling and transportation of lead acid batteries, e-waste and enforcing environmental preventive operations.

It can be easily concluded that Lead poisoning is proved to be more severe than we could ever imagine. The report critically translated the need of creation of global standard of pollution intervention on public health.The Geneva-based World Health Organisation launched the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action, from 20-26 October for spreading the awareness on laws, regulations and standards to stop the manufacture, import and sale of paints that contain lead.

Do You Know?
Pencils do not contain lead. What we know as “lead” in pencils is actually graphite. Large amounts of graphite were first discovered in Cumbria, England in 1500s, The locals assumed they had discovered lead, hence the name.
Do You Know?
In Ancient Rome, lead was added to wine by some unscrupulous people to increase the wine’s sweetness. Although this practice came to an end  in 1498 by the strict order Roman Catholic Church. As this practice continued for some time, a large-scale poisonings was observed late 18th century.


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