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Lead poisoning in India

GS2/GS3 Paper 

 Syllabus: Social Issues/ Science and Technology

 

Source: IE

Context: Lead poisoning poses a hidden threat in India, with over half of children having blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) (WHO safe level), according to studies.

What is lead?

Lead is a heavy metal element that is toxic to humans and can cause serious health problems when ingested or inhaled, especially in high amounts. Major sources of lead exposure include lead-based paints, lead batteries, contaminated soil and water, and occupational exposure in industries such as mining, smelting, and battery recycling.

 

What is Lead poisoning?

It is a condition that occurs when a person’s body accumulates high levels of lead, a toxic metal. It can lead to various health issues, especially in children, including learning disabilities, neurological problems, stunted growth, and organ damage.

 

Concerns of Lead Poisoning in India:

High Exposure in ChildrenA 2021 study found that about 20 crore children in India have blood lead levels exceeding the safe limit set by WHO.
Severe Health ImpactLead poisoning can lead to learning disabilities, neurological impairments, stunted growth, and organ damage. Children are especially vulnerable.
Economic and Social ImpactThe effects of lead poisoning account for a significant learning gap between rich and poor countries. Affected children might achieve less in education and work, impacting the nation’s productivity.
Impacted regionsBihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh account for 40% of the population with high blood lead levels.

 

 

Factors contributing to lead poisoning:

  • Informal and substandard recycling of lead-acid batteries.
  • Increase in vehicle ownership, combined with the lack of vehicle battery recycling regulation and infrastructure.
  • Workers in dangerous and often illegal recycling operations break open battery cases, and spill acid and lead dust into the soil.

 

Government steps to control lead poisoning:

  • National Programme for Prevention and Control of Fluorosis, Endemic Skeletal Fluorosis and Arsenicosis: Launched in 2010 to prevent lead poisoning.
  • Import Ban on Non-Compliant Lead Acid Batteries: In 2013, the Ministry of Environment and Forests banned non-compliant lead acid battery imports.
  • National Health Mission (NHM): Provides healthcare services, including lead poisoning screening and treatment.
  • Lead Battery Waste Management Rules, 2016: Regulates lead-acid battery disposal and promotes safe recycling.
  • National Programme for the Health Care of the Elderly (NPHCE): Offers healthcare to the elderly, who are vulnerable to lead poisoning.
  • Center for Advanced Research on Environmental Health (CAREH): Conducts research on environmental health, including lead poisoning.

 

 

Global efforts to address lead poisoning have taken various approaches:

  • S. Gasoline Initiative: The U.S. successfully reduced blood lead concentrations by more than 90% from 1976 to 1995 by eliminating lead from gasoline.
  • Paint and Water-Pipe Regulations: Many countries have implemented stringent standards to ensure paints and water pipes are lead-free, minimizing potential sources of lead exposure.
  • Bangladesh’s Turmeric Solution: In Bangladesh, lead contamination through turmeric adulteration was tackled by enforcing strict regulations and raising consumer awareness between 2017 and 2021, resulting in a decrease of lead-tainted turmeric from 47% in 2019 to 0% in 2021

 

Way forward for India to control lead poisoning:

ApproachDescription
Clear LegislationA strong legislative framework is needed to establish health and safety standards for lead-containing products.
Enforce StandardsStrict enforcement of regulations on lead-free paints and water pipes.
Monitoring SystemEstablish blood lead level testing, including in household surveys to identify affected populations.
Identify Contaminated SitesNationwide efforts to locate lead-contaminated areas, with priority on clean-ups near schools and residential zones.
Promote Sustainable PracticesImplement waste management and e-waste recycling programs to reduce lead contamination.
Inter-departmental CoordinationEnhance collaboration between government agencies, NGOs, and international partners for cohesive action.
Public AwarenessRaise awareness among parents, workers, schools, and healthcare professionals about lead’s dangers.

 

Insta Facts:

  • Lead in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney and bones. It is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time.
  • Lead in bone is released into the blood during pregnancyand becomes a source of exposure to the developing foetus.
  • WHO has identified lead as 1 of 10 chemicals of major public health concern.
  • WHO has joined with the United Nations Environment Programme to form the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint.

 

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Lead poisoning