Lead exposure is found to be as harmful as PM2.5 outdoor ambient and household air pollution combined, according to a recent analysis published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal. The report highlights that lead exposure can have serious health consequences for both children and adults.
The study identifies various sources of lead exposure, including lead acid battery recycling, soil and dust, leaded paint, cookware from recycled materials, lead-glazed pottery and ceramics, spices, toys, cosmetics, electronic waste, and fertilizers. Lead exposure can lead to brain damage, slowed development, and learning difficulties in young children. In adults, it can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, and learning disabilities.
Lead exposure has persisted as a significant health issue despite the ban on leaded petrol in most countries over 20 years ago. Lead exposure’s detrimental effects are more extensive than previously thought and come at a high economic cost, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Lead exposure’s impact is comparable to that of PM2.5 outdoor ambient and household air pollution.
This study is the first to assess the global health impacts and economic costs associated with IQ loss in children and cardiovascular disease deaths in adults due to lead exposure. Previous research on IQ loss in children was limited to low- and middle-income countries and relied on outdated estimates of blood lead levels. Prior global studies on cardiovascular disease deaths attributed to lead exposure only considered those caused by increased blood pressure.
The analysis of this study suggests that lead exposure resulted in the loss of 765 million IQ points among children under the age of five in 2019, with significant losses occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Children in these countries lose an average of 5.9 IQ points from lead exposure in their first five years of life. The authors estimate that this could reduce these children’s total lifetime income by up to 12%.
In conclusion, lead exposure poses significant health risks and economic costs. Efforts to address the impacts of lead exposure must be prioritized, especially in low- and middle-income countries where the burden is greatest.
(Sources: The Lancet Planetary Health journal)