Lead Poisoning Eradication Progress and Failures Reported

As National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week winds down, the National Resources Defense Council reported in on the global effort to get lead out of gasoline. The U.S. began phasing out production of leaded gas in 1978 and by 1991 blood lead levels had dropped 77 percent. The rest of the world, particularly the developing world, has not been as quick to ban leaded gas. But the United Nations Environment Programme says that 175 countries have now stopped using leaded gasoline. The result is a 90 percent drop in blood lead levels worldwide.

Household lead sources

As the incidence of lead exposure from gasoline decreases, the battle against household sources of lead exposure continues. Lead exposure commonly occurs through wall paint and paint dust from older homes (lead in wall paint has been banned in the U.S. since 1978), through drinking water delivered through lead pipes, and through ceramics and pottery. Imported consumer goods are also a common source of lead exposure.

Children are more susceptible to lead than adults, and some 250,000 children in the United States have elevated blood-lead levels. Lead exposure is also a serious problem in the rest of the world.

This week saw a victory on the leaded paint front as a Maryland judge overturned a law allowing landlords to get off the hook for lead poising by registering their properties and paying victims a paltry $17,000. The court said $17,000 wasn’t adequate to compensate victims of lead poisoning who suffered brain damage. The court’s decision restoring the right of tenants to sue landlords who expose their families to lead should lead to greater care by landlords to eliminate lead hazards in their rental properties.

Not all of the news this week on the lead problem is good news.

Lead Poisoning Killing Children in Nigeria

Illegal gold mining is a source of lead poisoning in Nigeria where 400 children have already died from it, a Nigerian official told AFP Friday. Two thousand children in Nigeria’s Zamfara state have elevated blood lead levels, including every single child in the town of Bagega village. The 1,500 children in Bagega and 500 others from seven neighboring villages were identified in 2010, and remediation work to clean up the lead ordered. But the work stopped in March for budgetary reasons and has yet to be re-started. Bagega’s lead problem will be costly to remediate because villagers used contaminated mud to build their homes, requiring tear-down and reconstruction of affected residences.

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