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Date: Tue, 19 Jan 1999 21:37:59 -0600 (CST)
From: Mark Graffis <ab758@virgin.usvi.net>
Subject: Lead Poisons Crumbling Third World Cities
Article: 52477
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.15370.19990120121547@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Lead Poisons Crumbling Third World Cities

By Frederick Noronha, ENS, 18 January 1999

BOMBAY, India, January 18, 1999 (ENS)—Global experts from around the world are to congregate in the southern Indian city of Bangalore for three days in early February, to study one of the world’s most widespread environmental pollutants affecting two-thirds of the world’s children in urban environments—lead. An estimated 15 to 18 million children in developing countries are affected by high levels of lead in their blood, according to figures issued by the World Health Organisation.

Beginning February 8, participants in the International Conference on Lead Poisoning Preventment and Treatment will attempt to map the worldwide dimensions of the lead problem. They will cover screening and measurement, prevention, health effects and treatment.

The gathering is billed as the largest-ever meeting of scientists, public health and environmental professionals on lead poisoning. One outcome will be a newly established central clearinghouse for collection and dissemination of information about lead.

The conference is being organised by the World Bank, in cooperation with three American associations. Co-sponsors are two federal agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a nongovernmental organisation, the George Foundation.

The George Foundation, a non-profit organisation was founded in 1995, in Bangalore, India, and is funded by Dr. Abraham George, president and CEO of Multinational Computer Models Inc., an international financial consulting firm based in New Jersey, USA. The George Foundation works for the welfare of children in India, especially poor children who suffer from adverse environmental conditions beyond their control, such as lead poisoning.

Lead occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. But when ingested, inhaled or absorbed through skin, it is highly toxic to humans. Lead is not biodegradable. It persists in the soil, in the air, in drinking water and in homes and can poison generations of children and adults unless properly removed.

Worldwide, seven sources appear to account for most lead exposure: gasoline additives, food can soldering, lead-based paints, ceramic glazes, drinking water systems, cosmetics and folk remedies.

Significant exposures also come from industrial emissions, like lead smelters and battery recycling plants which contaminate environments and people in the surrounding areas. The highest level of environmental contamination is found to be associated with uncontrolled recycling operations and the most highly exposed adults are those who work with lead.

No level of lead in blood can be considered safe or normal. At high levels, lead poisoning causes coma, convulsions and death. Exposure to extremely small amounts can have long-term measurable effects in children while causing no distinctive symptoms.

Beginning at low levels of exposure, experts say lead causes anemia in both children and adults by impairing the formation of oxygen-carrying molecules. Other adverse effects in adults include kidney disease and impaired fertility.

In adults, small but significant increases in blood pressure result from extremely low exposure levels with no evidence of a threshold below which lead does not affect blood pressure. Hypertension caused by lead exposure contributes to thousands of deaths every year, particularly among men between the ages of 35 and 50.

In addition to lead poisoning, India’s urban dwellers are being crowded to an unprecedented degree. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) predicts that about half of India’s population will be urban at the dawn of the new millennium, putting further pressure on cities already crumbling due to lack of planning.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP executive director who also directs the U.N. Centre of Human Settlement (HABITAT), said that the problems of cities, already breeding grounds for poverty, violence, pollution and congestion, would be major environmental issues.


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