It may sound astonishing, if not outright incredible, that lead pollution claims 140,000 lives and costs the country around 9.0 per cent of the GDP annually. A study published in the scientific journal Lancet says lead pollution proves to be an increasing risk of intellectual disabilities among children and makes Bangladesh as the fourth most lead pollution-impacted country. Childhood lead poisoning increases the risk of decreased intelligence in children, learning problems, and behavioural disorders, according to the study. About 140,000 cardiovascular disease deaths among adults aged 25 years or older due to lead exposure are nearly five times higher than the previous death toll. The combined cost of these health effects was US$28,633 million, which accounted for a loss of around 9.0 per cent of the country's GDP in 2019, the study said.
Since long, lead poisoning has been recognised as extremely threatening to human health, particularly that of children. A joint report by UNICEF and the NGO Pure Earth had, sometime ago, cautioned that lead poisoning was affecting children on a massive scale not known before. The report said around one in three children - up to 800 million globally - have lead levels in blood at or above 5.0 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL). Nearly half of these children live in South Asia. The report also mentioned that high concentrations of lead were found in spices in Bangladesh. Lead chromate, which is used to enhance colour and weight of turmeric as a sign of quality, contributes to the high lead levels in children and adults alike. Recycling of used lead-acid batteries in the open-air and close to homesteads is considered to be a major source of lead exposure. Other sources such as leaded paint, aluminium cookware, ceramic foodware, spices, toys, cosmetics, electronic waste, fertilisers, cultured fish feed etc; were not suspect earlier for this kind of poisoning.
Lead is a heavy metal found naturally in the environment as well as in manufactured products. It can be released directly into the air, as suspended particles. Historically, major sources of lead air emissions were motor vehicles and industrial sources. Sources of lead emissions vary from one area to another. Worldwide lead production and consumption have significantly increased along with unplanned industrialisation and urbanisation, lead smelting, and lead-acid battery processing.
Experts are of the opinion that lead can be recycled safely without exposing workers, their children, and surrounding neighbourhoods. However, as experts have suggested, the government, to start with, can address lead pollution by adopting a coordinated and concerted approach. These include-developing monitoring system for blood lead level testing, preventing children's exposure to products that contain lead, public awareness campaign, framing legislation for enforcing environmental, health and safety standards for manufacturing and recycling products that are known to cause lead exposure. Also, there is the need to work in collaboration with organisations involved in curbing lead pollution. One such organisation, Lead-safe Bangladesh Coalition (comprising NGOs, INGOs, the UN, researchers, academics, and environmental health experts) has reportedly suggested an action plan to the government, according to a FE report. The authorities should consider the action plan for containing lead pollution.