Lead Poisoning in India: A Public Health Concern

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    • Recently, a not-for-profit organization has highlighted the issue of lead poisoning in India.

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    • Centre for Science and Environment(CSE) through an article has recently highlighted that lead poisoning is a significant public health issue in India, with millions of children and adults affected.
    • As per the World Health Organization (WHO), the lead metal can be ingested through the mouth, inhaled through the respiratory system or absorbed by the skin.
    • Lead poisoning is a serious health issue caused by the accumulation of lead in the body, leading to various health problems.
    • 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.
    • The think tank has highlighted how lack of screening systems, inability to determine source of exposure and lax implementation of safety norms have compounded the problem in India.

    The Crisis in India

    • Half the children in India record high blood lead levels, with 275 million children in India recording levels beyond the tolerable limit of 5 µg/dL.
    • Adults are also affected, with Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh accounting for 40% of the population with high blood lead levels.
    • Lead toxicity in India contributes to 4.6 million Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) and 165,000 deaths annually.

    The Impact of Lead Poisoning:

    • Lead poisoning can have severe physical and developmental impacts, including anemia, developmental delays, and damage to the nervous system.
    • Once lead enters the bloodstream, it goes directly to the brain, making it particularly harmful for children.
    • During pregnancy, if the mother consumes lead, there is no placental barrier, so the lead is transferred to the fetus.

    Government steps to control lead poisoning

    • National Programme for Prevention and Control of Fluorosis, Endemic Skeletal Fluorosis and Arsenicosis: It was launched in 2010 to take measures to prevent lead poisoning.
    • In 2013, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued a notification that banned the import of lead acid batteries that do not meet the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) specifications.
    • National Health Mission (NHM): It was initiated by the government to provide comprehensive healthcare services, including screening for lead poisoning and treatment for affected individuals.
    • Lead Battery Waste Management Rules, 2016: It was formulated by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to regulate the disposal of lead-acid batteries and promote their recycling in an environmentally safe manner.
    • National Programme for the Health Care of the Elderly (NPHCE): It was launched by the government to provide healthcare services to the elderly population, who are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning.
    • Center for Advanced Research on Environmental Health (CAREH) : It was established by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to conduct research on environmental health issues, including lead poisoning.

    What more can be done? 

    • Awareness campaigns: The government can launch awareness campaigns to educate people about the dangers of lead poisoning and the sources of lead exposure.
    • Ban on lead-based paints: The government can ban the production, sale, and use of lead-based paints. Several countries have already banned lead-based paints, and India needs to follow suit.
    • Lead battery recycling regulations: The government can regulate the recycling of lead batteries to prevent the release of lead into the environment.
    • Periodic soil testing: The government can conduct soil testing in areas with high lead exposure to identify and mitigate contaminated areas.
    • Drinking water testing: The government can ensure the testing of drinking water for lead contamination in areas where there is a high risk of exposure.
    • Occupational health and safety regulations: The government can implement and enforce occupational health and safety regulations to protect workers in industries that involve lead exposure.
    • Affordable medical treatment: The government can provide medical treatment and support to people affected by lead poisoning.

    Source: DTE