A report released by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on 29 July 2020 stated that one-third of all the children across the world (around 800 million) have lead poisoning. It further stated that out of these cases, more than 275 million children with high levels of lead in their blood are from India.
Since lead is a non-biodegradable element, it can enter the human body from anywhere, be it air, water or soil. Traces of lead have been found in paints, toys, gasoline additives, art supplies and in some food items such as black pepper powder, chilli powder and in some noodles. Vermillion, commonly known as Sindoor and found in many Indian households, also has some trace of lead in it.
Exposure to lead can be extremely harmful to both children and adults as it can result in acute as well as chronic health complications.
Lead poisoning silently wreaks havoc on the body as it presents with only a few early symptoms. In order to make people more aware of this issue, International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is observed from 25 to 31 October every year. The theme for this year is to 'Eliminate Lead Paint' as the manufacturing and sale of lead paint is still permitted in over 60 percent of countries. This poses a great threat for children as well as workers who deal with such paint regularly.
Why is lead harmful to the body?
Lead poisoning can be a serious health hazard and sometimes fatal if ignored. It can build up over months and years.
There is no safe level for lead in children as studies have shown that even low levels of the metal in the blood can reduce four IQ (intelligence quotient) points and attentiveness in kids. As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), exposure to high levels of lead can hamper the intellectual development of children.
Lead poisoning in older children can increase the risk of kidney damage and cardiovascular diseases later in life. Lead exposure can damage the nervous system of a newborn, resulting in permanent neurological, cognitive and physical damage.
Studies have shown that the presence of lead in the blood can damage red blood cells, thus limiting their ability to carry oxygen to the organs and tissues, resulting in anaemia.
Lead poisoning can also affect bone health by interfering with the absorption of calcium.
How can you prevent lead poisoning?
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in India passed a notification in November 2016 regarding the regulation of lead contents in households and decorative paints. The government has prohibited the manufacturing, trade, import and export of household and decorative paints that contain lead or its compounds weighing more than 90 parts per million (ppm).
There are certain things you can do in order to reduce the risk of lead poisoning:
To reduce the transfer of lead from dust or soil, make sure that you wash your hands before eating and going to bed. Ensure that your kids do so as well.
Designate separate shoes for outdoor use to keep your house free from lead contamination.
Make sure your kid's toys are lead-free. Wash them regularly to keep them free from contamination.
If your house has lead pipings, let the water run for at least a minute before you use it. Do not use this water while cooking or for making baby formula.
Children and adults must be given a diet rich in iron as iron deficiency increases the susceptibility of lead poisoning. The kids must also be given calcium and vitamin C to maintain proper development.
For more information, read our article on Lead poisoning.
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