Over 53% of children have unacceptable blood lead levels


About 53.5 percent of children aged below five have unacceptable blood lead levels, with its poisoning associated with loss of IQ, says a study.

The study – Protecting Every Child Potential project by Pure Earth, United Nations International Education Fund and the Ghana Health Service – was conducted in the Greater Accra, Ashanti and Northern Regions, with 53.5 percent of the children surveyed reporting elevated blood lead poison levels way higher than the global average of about 33 percent. It said in some areas, lead poisoning was seen at 70 to 80 percent.

The major source of lead poisoning, the study noted, is improper disposal and recycling of lead acid batteries. The other cause of its contamination is cookware, with as high as 77 percent of all household cookware surveyed having more than the acceptable lead levels in them.

“The consequences of lead poisoning are dire; the body does not need lead at all, and to have lead levels in children as high as the study established is very worrying. Any amount of it can destabilise the body and affect children’s IQ,” Esmond Wisdom Quansah, Pure Earth’s Country Director, said in Accra at a result-sharing session of the study on the blood lead levels.

“The results show that 53.5 percent of the surveyed children have blood lead levels more than the recommended World Health Organization threshold, which is a cause for concern,” he lamented.

Globally, it is estimated that over US$977billion is lost to IQ loss, with low-income and poor countries the most affected, he said.

“The major cause of lead poisoning include used lead battery recycling – the car batteries have lead in them and once the batteries are no longer in use, they remove the lead and recycle it. However, a greater chunk of this is not done well, which ends up polluting the environment.

“So when children or adults inhale it, it ends up poisoning their system. In addition to this, children get lead poisoning from the soil in which they play,” he explained.

Metal cookware are the other sources of lead poisoning, the study said, noting that 77 percent of household metal cookware examined had lead levels higher than recommended.

“The amount of lead that leaches out of any particular pot is difficult to predict without specific testing, and there are currently no existing international standards for total lead content in metal cookware. However, 224 of the 293 (77 percent) cooking pots assessed during the study were found to contain levels of lead high enough to indicate the potential for a dangerous amount of lead to leach, based on Pure Earth’s ongoing research (above 100 ppm),” the study added.

Paints, cosmetic products, particularly eyeliner (chilo), and indoor dust within areas of high lead presence as well as incinerators and ore are sources of lead poisoning, according to the findings.

Pure Earth described the findings as worrying because the lead from cookware in particular often leaches into food, causing health problems, particularly IQ loss in children.

“These findings are very, very important,” said Dr. Carlos Osei, Programmes Manager, Occupational and Environmental Health, Ghana Health Service. “We’ve not carried out a study like this before. If it hadn’t been for this study, we wouldn’t have known that as a country, on average, over 50 percent of children under five have elevated blood lead levels way higher than the global average of about 33 percent.”

Commenting further, he said in some parts of the country “we realised that levels of lead poisoning was between 70 to 80 percent”.

Way forward

“Now that we have data, we are engaging the government and its agencies to begin to work; and the first step was the signing of the declaration against lead poisoning today. There are three actions that we need. First is the strengthening of regulations on recycling of these lead acid batteries. Secondly, we need to strengthen the health system to be able to identify cases of lead poisoning and treat them; and finally, we need to conduct public health education across the country about the prevalence of lead in our surroundings. These are the key immediate steps,” Mr. Quansah said

In the long term, he said the goal is to do extensive work on lead poisoning across the country.

“In the Greater Accra Region, when we carried out a study and presented the findings to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we realised that there was prompt action by the EPA to shutdown these polluting lead acid recycling factories or spots,” Dr. Osei revealed.


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