Lead pollution – a ticking time-bomb


When a child is exposed to lead, the consequences are dire. It harms a child’s health in many ways including damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, hearing and speech problems.

One in every three children across the world- especially in low-income countries like Ghana- are exposed to toxic levels lead.

In Ghana, over 1.7 million children are estimated to have blood lead levels exceeding 5 micrograms per deciliter – the level above which there is cause for concern. Unfortunately, awareness of this imminent danger is very low among many people in Ghana and in much of Africa.

Through the work that civil society groups like Pure Earth have done, we are currently aware that more than 400 sites that that have poisoned beyond safe levels, posing serious threat to the lives of people living in such areas. One of such places is the Agbogbloshie e-waste site in the Greater Accra region.

In the case of Agbogbloshie, years of dumping of used electronic gadgets like computers, fridges, television sets among others have left in its trail an ugly spectacle of a site that is heavily poisonous. In this Agbogbloshie enclave alone, the largest slum, home to more than 100,000 people, is located.

Thousands of young men and women are involved in all manner of work on this field including the extraction of copper wires from hot, blazing fire. There are thousands of children in the area and with the nearby Agbogbloshie market, any of the effects from the pollution there would affect many of the market women.

Some studies have even pointed to the fact that breastmilk of some pregnant and lactating mothers could be affected by the high levels of lead in the area. This poses a great threat to the infants who would be feeding on the milk.

What can we do?

This is the very reason why organisations like Pure Earth exist. With presence in 25 countries across the world, we are leaving no stone unturned in shinning a light on this unassuming canker. To decrease this worrying rate, the Government of Ghana, UNICEF and Pure entered a three-year plan in 2020 to mobilize action and to prevent children’s exposure to lead, with funding from the Clarios Foundation.

Since 2012, Pure Earth has been working with partners to raise awareness in communities on preventive measures, supporting training of health staff in diagnosing and treating cases of lead poisoning.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Factories Inspectorate are working at enforcing control measures and putting standards in place to minimize emissions from lead-based factories into the environment.

It is the child who scavenges daily for metal scraps at places like Agbogbloshie, or for used lead acid lorry batteries, electronic gadgets and is exposed to lead-infused paint, who is most at risk.

Pure Earth will continue to work with like-minded partners like UNICEF, the Ghana Health Service through a multi-stakeholder approach with MMDAs, businesses, our United Nations colleagues, academia and civil society to address the emerging health crisis caused by lead exposure and to help Ghanaian children thrive in lead-free environments.

Pure Earth, working with the GHS, has conducted a blood-lead testing procedure to ascertain the extent of the problem of the issue, especially among children.  The data collected- which would be made public in the coming months- will help to provide more evidence on the extent and severity of the problem. The idea is that this would spark bigger public interest and hopefully action in tackling the problem.

>>>The writer is the country Director for Pure Earth in Ghana. Pure Earth works with partners to address pollution that can lead to diseases, disability and even deaths especially in children and pregnant women. He can be reached via [email protected]g

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