Lead contamination has long been recognized as a health hazard, particularly for the young. But a new study asserts that the extent of the problem is far bigger than previously thought, with one in three children worldwide — about 800 million in all — threatened by unacceptably high lead levels in their blood.
The ubiquity of lead — in dust and fumes from smelters and fires, vehicle batteries, old peeling paint, old water pipes, electronics junkyards, and even cosmetics and lead-infused spices — represents an enormous and understated risk to the mental and physical development of a generation of children, according to the study, released late Wednesday.
The danger is particularly acute in poor and middle-income countries where industrial pollution safeguards are poorly enforced or nonexistent.
“The unequivocal conclusion of this research is that children around the world are being poisoned by lead on a massive and previously unrecognized scale,” said the study, a collaboration of UNICEF and Pure Earth, a nonprofit that seeks to help poor countries threatened by toxic pollutants.
The study also said that nearly one million adults a year die prematurely because of lead exposure.