A third of the world’s children poisoned by lead: UNICEF Report

A new report launched by UNICEF and Pune Earth claims that lead poisoning is affecting children on a massive and previously unknown scale. According to the report, 1 out of every 3 children which adds up to around 1800 million globally has blood levels at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the level at which prompt action is warranted. The most startling revelation is that nearly half of these children live in South Asia alone.


The report, named as ‘Toxic Truth: Children’s Exposure to Lead Pollution Undermines a Generation of Potential’, is primarily an analysis of childhood lead exposure undertaken by the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation and verified with a study approved for publication in Environmental Health Prospective. The salient findings of the report are:

  • Lead is a potent neurotoxin which causes irreparable harm to the brains of children and it mainly affects babies and children under the age of five, causing them life-long ailments.
  • Childhood lead exposure can lead to mental health and behavioural problems and also to an aggravated level of violence.
  • The lower and middle-income countries are going to suffer to the tune of $1 trillion due to the lost economic potential of these children over their entire lifetime.
  • Informal and substandard recycling of lead-acid batteries is the main contributor of lead poisoning to the children living in low and middle-income countries. The number of such batteries has increased manifold since 2000.
  • Other sources of childhood lead exposure include the lead in water from the use of lead pipes, lead from active industry, lead-based paint and gasoline, leaded gasoline, etc.
  • The high lead levels in the blood have declined in the developed nations since the phase-out of leaded gasoline and most lead-based paints, the lead levels in the blood have increased in the low and middle-income countries.

What to be done?

The governments in the affected countries should lead the concerted effort in the areas of monitoring and reporting systems, prevention and control measures, management, treatment and remediation, public awareness and behavioural change, legislation and policy and also global action is required to combat this menace in an effective manner.


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