Around 30,000 people die every year of lead poisoning in Bangladesh. Integrated efforts must be made by the government and non-government sector to determine the cause and source of this lead poisoning and to take measures to resolve the matter accordinglyMinjoon Kim, UNICEF health specialist
The discussion was arranged as part of observing the International Lead-Poisoning Prevention Week which commenced on 24 October. At the meeting it was said the metal lead was easily available and has been used over thousands of years. As a result, it has spread all over the environment. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US has determined the presence of 5micrograms/delitres of lead in the blood to be dangerous.
A paper on 'lead poisoning awareness and response' was presented jointly at the meeting by UNICEF's Bangladesh health department advisor Didarul Alam and the organisation's health specialist Minjoon Kim. Didarul Alam said lead enters into the body by three means -- food and drink, breathing, and through the skin. Lead can remain in the teeth and bones for 20 to 30 years. People can even die if the presence of lead in the body is too high. There are high levels of lead in the blood of around 800 million (80 crore) children around the world. And estimated 35 million (3.5 crore) children in Bangladesh have high levels of lead in their blood.
Minjoon Kim said, around 30,000 people die every year of lead poisoning in Bangladesh. Integrated efforts must be made by the government and non-government sector to determine the cause and source of this lead poisoning and to take measures to resolve the matter accordingly.
Lead entering the body of children under five years old does irreparable harm to the childSanjana Bhardwaj, head of the health section, UNICEF
Speaking as guest of honour at the event, line director Munshi Mohammad Sadullah (planning and research), health directorate, said the government is working to raise people's awareness about lead poisoning. People have little idea of which items contain lead and what steps can be taken to lower the risk of lead poisoning. The media needs to increase awareness campaigns in this regard too.
Razinara Begum, director (chemical and waste management unit), department of environment, said it has been learnt that 80 per cent of lead poisoning comes from lead acid batteries. Old batteries are collected by industrial organisations and recycled to get raw material to use in the manufacture of new batteries. These sectors must be regulated in order to reduce the risk of lead poisoning.
Professor Robed Amin, another line director of DGHS' Non-Communicable Disease Control programme, said there is no proven safe level regarding the presence of lead in the blood. There is need for further extensive detection of the source of lead and its harmful effect on the human body so that the government can identify this as a serious problem. Screening needs to be carried out at a school level.
Country director of Pure Earth Bangladesh, Mahfuzar Rahman, said after the presence of lead in petrol was detected in Bangladesh and banned, pollution dropped significantly. Effective measures need to be taken to identify the problems and the solutions. The main way to address this harm is to follow certain rules and caution in industrial production.
Sanjana Bhardwaj, head of the health section, UNICEF, said Bangladesh has taken up a leadership position by reducing infant mortality. In the same manner, the government can work with the non-government organisations to prevent lead contamination for the protection of children. Lead entering the body of children under five years old does irreparable harm to the child.
Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum, opening the roundtable, said public awareness can play a vital role in preventing lead pollution.
Siddika Sultana, executive director of the Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO), highlighted their successful campaign against the use of lead-mixed paint in the country, saying that 45 wall paint manufacturing companies in the country had to have safe lead certificate. This needed to be effective in the case of paint used in the industrial sector too. This paint is used for children's toys, playgrounds, streets and other places.
Project coordinator of icddr,b, Mahbubur Rahman highlighted the survey run in various places of the country regarding lead pollution. The presence of 10 micrograms/decilitres of lead was found in 14 per cent of schoolchildren, and 5 micrograms/decilitres in 31 per cent of women. In probing how such high content of lead was present in the villages, isotopic tests revealed lead presence emerged through tin welding, the habit of some expectant mothers nibbling burnt soil, and the use of turmeric in cooking.
General secretary of Bangladesh Paint Manufacturers' Association, Arun Mitra, said the use of lead-free paint pushes costs up by 5 per cent. That is why duty should be reduced on such materials and increased on the products that contain lead.
Hasanul Banna, lawyer of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), said as lead is a part of environmental, air, water and other pollution, the laws pertaining to these sectors must address the lead issue.
Also present at the discussion were deputy programme manager (NCDC) DGHS Shahnawaz Parvez, DGHS planning and research officer Anwar Sadat, UNICEF health officer Jannatul Ferdaus and Pure Earth Bangladesh's communication lead Mitali Das.
Prothom Alo assistant director Firoz Choudhury moderated the programme.