A 'lead-footed' approach towards pollution

A ‘lead-footed’ approach towards pollution
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A ‘lead-footed’ approach towards pollution

Highlights

Pollution is responsible for the premature deaths of approximately nine million people each year; more than the number of deaths attributable to war and terrorism, malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis, drugs, alcohol or even smoking.

Pollution is responsible for the premature deaths of approximately nine million people each year; more than the number of deaths attributable to war and terrorism, malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis, drugs, alcohol or even smoking. What is more appalling is that chemical pollution is severely undercounted in premature deaths from pollution. That's also the equivalent of one in six premature deaths worldwide, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) at a panel on the effects of pollution on health at Geneva was told a couple of days ago on the final day of the Geneva Health Forum.

While the conference this year has focused heavily on an emerging knowledge about the complex relationship between climate change, biodiversity loss, and pandemic risks – the panel on the GHF's closing day, drove home the point that pollution of the air, waterways and soils is a fundamental driver of all of these trends. And despite half a century of environmental action, health risks from pollution remain as acute as ever. Lead poisoning amongst these is leading to elevated blood lead levels in one in three children worldwide.

While there are many sources of pollution – from traditional ones such as biomass burning and water contamination to 'modern' sources like vehicles, one important risk that still needs more attention is lead pollution. Despite the worldwide phase out in leaded gasoline, environmental lead remains pervasive, causing some 900,000 deaths a year, according to the report. Despite the warnings, action plans and deadlines, the world has not been able to eradicate lead poisoning.

A report by UNICEF and Pure earth, a prominent not for profit organization, have shown the levels at which the WHO recommends intervention - 5 micrograms per decilitre of blood. Out of these reported deaths, 90 percent of the victims i.e., 800 million of children, are from low and middle income countries which are least equipped to handle the health impacts. This poisoning is also causing irreversible neurological damage amongst many more. The problem is ensuring that such countries lose 2 percent of their GDP in attempting to tackle the menace amounting to 7 percent cost on healthcare in middle income countries.

Researchers have also warned that the primary sources of lead today are more diverse than in the past. They include spices, cookware and lead acid car and truck batteries – as well as areas tainted by oil extraction and other industries. In some countries, especially in South Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, lead salts are added to spices like turmeric and paprika to make them more colourful. How about India? Well, we don't even bother about such reports and our governments just don't even care to monitor the quality of our edible products.

A strong reason for lead pollution here is because turmeric roots are getting dull in their colour due to climate change and hence. In addition, ceramic ware gets a lead glaze in our country. And in most of the developing world alongside India, lead acid batteries are not properly disposed of, but rather dropped into landfills; lead and sulphuric acid seep into the soil contaminating the earth and underground fresh water supplies. Health should also be on the agenda of our governments. Isn't it so?

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