By SM Najmus Sakib
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) - Eight-year-old Anik is still struggling to recover from his trauma, a nervous system disorder caused by lead poisoning several years ago.
Anik's blood contained 26 milligrams of lead per litter, compared to the normal 4-5 milligrams. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no safe level of lead exposure.
There was a lead factory near his house in Kathgora village in the Savar town, near the capital Dhaka. As a result of lead exposure, the little boy developed memory and intelligence quotient or IQ disorders.
His family was unaware of lead poisoning and its negative impact on health and the environment. Therefore, in 2016, they allowed a lead battery factory to be set up on their land in the village. But after a year, they realized they had made a terrible mistake. Anik's family and neighbors eventually forced the factory to leave the village.
Anik's condition has improved significantly, but he still shows signs of lead exposure, according to Mitali Das, communications manager at Pure Earth Bangladesh, who shared his story with Anadolu after it was commissioned by UNICEF.
Pure Earth Bangladesh is a New York City-based nonprofit that works with children and families exposed to lead poisoning.
They have identified more than 300 informal toxic lead sites in Bangladesh, while the World Bank estimates there could be as many as 1,100. These are sites where lead is smelted to make batteries, which causes toxic emissions.
"These toxic sites are located in rural areas and within villages. When a lead-acid battery is taken to be recycled in an open process, it releases a toxic gas that can easily be inhaled by humans and animals, with children being the most vulnerable," she added.
A recent study commissioned by UNICEF in collaboration with the Institute for Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR) found high levels of lead in the blood of children in the four districts of Tangail, Khulna, Sylhet and Patuakhali where the tests were conducted.
All 980 children tested had lead in their blood, according to the study.
- Neurotoxic lead exposure
Lead is a neurotoxic heavy metal that can damage the nervous system, especially in children, said Dr. Md. Mahbubur Rahman, infectious disease specialist at ICDDR,b who participated in the study commissioned by UNICEF.
"When lead is present in the blood, children's growth is affected, including their mental and intellectual well-being. Long-term or chronic exposure can cause irreparable damage to a child's brain or nervous system. And this damage cannot be reversed, even if children eat healthy foods," Dr. Rahman explained.
Lead can be stored in human bones and teeth for several years, he said.
"The worst effect is that lead can be transferred from pregnant mothers to their babies (vertical transmission). The transfer of lead occurs during the transfer of food from the mother to the baby in the womb," he explained.
The effects of lead poisoning are far more severe in children than in adults, and the damage is irreversible, said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF's Bangladesh representative.
"Lead poisoning in childhood can lead to lower IQ, attention deficits, and poor academic performance, and is linked to violent behavior later in life," he told Anadolu in a Q&A email," he told Anadolu in response to questions sent by e-mail.
Bangladeshi children are among the most severely affected in the world.
"The air they breathe, the food they eat, the water they drink, the ground they walk on, and the toys they play with contain lead. Today, a staggering 35 million children in Bangladesh have lead in their blood," he added.
In addition, another ICDDR study found that contaminated turmeric leads to high blood lead concentrations in pregnant women in Bangladesh.
Lead is stored in the bones due to previous exposure, but is released back into the bloodstream during pregnancy, damaging vital organs and putting the fetus at risk. When pregnant women are exposed to high concentrations of lead, it can lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, premature births, and low birth weight.
"There have been a number of lead exposures, and turmeric contamination was one of them. Lead exposure from lead paint also poses a risk to children and women," Das pointed out.
- Several sources of lead pollution
The studies also found that lead pollution can come from a variety of sources, not just used lead batteries or recycling activities.
Lead-containing toys, paints, aluminum, and silver cookware, sweetener containers, vegetables, rice, and other spices were discovered in markets in four cities - Dhaka, Barisal, Rajshahi, and Khulna. According to UNICEF Bangladesh, lead was also found in soil, ash, clay, and turmeric powder samples collected from the markets.
The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution allows a lead level of 90 parts per million (ppm) in paints. However, a study published in January by the Organization for Environment and Social Development found high levels of toxic lead in paints.
Samples from 39 national and multinational brands in Dhaka were analyzed as part of the study.
Of the samples analyzed, 30.8% of decorative paints contained levels above the limit, while 50% of industrial paints had high lead content.
The country's environment minister, Md. Shahab Uddin said at a recent event in the capital that his ministry's departments regularly monitor illegal exposure, including illegal manufacturing and recycling of batteries.
However, he stressed the need for greater public awareness as law enforcement agencies alone would not be enough to stop this illegal practice. ..