Lead pollution increases IQ loss among children, cardiovascular diseases death among adults in Bangladesh: Study

A woman tries to saver her child from inhaling polluted air

Bangladesh, the fourth most lead pollution impacted country in the world, is facing a significant IQ loss among children and cardiovascular diseases death among adults due to lead pollution, according to a new research published on Tuesday.

The Lancet Planetary Health journal published the World Bank's analysis titled 'Global health burden and cost of lead exposure in children and adults: a health impact and economic modeling analysis,’ said a press release.

The report estimates that the level of harm due to lead exposure is far greater than previous estimations.

According to the study, lead pollution has serious implications for children below five years of age, causing a loss of about 20 million (20,596,306) IQ points, and causing a very high economic cost of US$10,897 million, which is 3.6 percent of the country's annual GDP.

Childhood lead poisoning increases the risk of decreased intelligence in children, learning problems, and behavioral disorders.

About 140,000 (138,054) cardiovascular disease (CVD) deaths among adults aged 25 years or older due to lead exposure exceeded the previous estimation with a four times higher mortality rate. The combined cost of these health effects was US$28,633 million which is a loss of 6 to 9 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2019.

In Bangladesh, the major sources of lead exposure include used-lead acid battery recycling in informal settings, leaded paint, aluminum cookware, ceramic food ware, spices, toys, cosmetics, food, electronic waste, fertilizers, and cultured fish feed.

‘Lead-safe Bangladesh Coalition’ is an alliance of organizations in Bangladesh, which comprises members from NGOs, INGOs, UN, researchers, academicians, and environmental health experts. Coalition members expressed their concerns and urged the government and policymakers to take immediate action following their suggested ten-point action plan to address the lead pollution crisis. Collectively, they call for increased investment to scale up proven solutions.

Shahriar Hossain, secretary general, ESDO said, “Despite being standard, decorative and industrial paints still contain high lead levels, and several national and multinational companies still don't meet the standards. To protect future generations, existing laws, industrial paint standards, and polluter pay principles with these standards must be implemented. Continuous advocacy and multi-sectoral actions involving various stakeholders is crucial.”

Md Mahbubur Rahman, project coordinator, Environmental Health and WASH, Health System, and Population Studies Division, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) stated, “Our continuous research efforts and accumulation of substantial evidence enabled us to realise the magnitude of the lead pollution problem in Bangladesh. It is high time to take the existing evidence and design interventions to mitigate the problem at the source.”

Mahfuzar Rahman, Bangladesh country director, Pure Earth stated, “Given the profound health and economic toll inflicted by lead exposure in Bangladesh, safeguarding the environment must become a top priority. Pure Earth’s Rapid market analysis of about 200 items in three districts showed the widespread sources of lead in daily commodities such as metallic foodware, ceramic foodware, paint, rice/starch, and toys, posing potentially serious health risks. Strict regulations and increased investment are imperative to further research and implement risk reduction strategies.”

“We may not see it, taste it or smell it, and early symptoms may be hard to identify, but we know that exposure to lead can have devastating consequences on a child’s health, learning and development. When children aren’t able to reach their full potential, this is a tragedy not only for these specific children but their entire communities,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh. “National level surveillance, and assessments of possible contaminants in the home, are needed to identify lead exposure and the appropriate response.”

The ten-point action plan to address the lead pollution crisis recommendation includes analysing the lead sources and designing source-specific interventions, building blood lead level surveillance, taking multi-sectoral efforts, increasing monitoring, reviewing the existing policy and enforcing laws and regulations, remediating toxic sites, building capacity of the stakeholders to mitigate the issue, and raising awareness at the national level.