Global Lead Network: The Global Dimensions of Lead Poisoning

The Global Dimensions of Lead Poisoning

This report seeks to describe the global dimensions and causes of lead poisoning. The most novel component of this report is its compilation and analysis of existing human blood-lead data from around the world. Although spotty and incomplete, these data are reinforced by environmental data and case studies of six countries, as well as illuminated by the well-established relationships between control actions and environmental health benefits.

Many nations have taken steps to reduce uses of lead that cause direct human exposure or environmental contamination. Other nations, though, still use leaded gasoline extensively, and few have instituted controls on most other high-exposure lead products. No nation has successfully met the challenge of remediating environmental contamination caused by prior uses and releases of lead. This report serves as a call to action for policy makers and advocates, and provides a basis for that action by outlining prevention strategies.

Overview of the Analysis

The data suggest that lead poisoning is a problem that affects virtually every region of the world. Globally, exposure to excessive levels of lead in the environment, the home, and the workplace impose immense costs, with many millions of adults and children suffering adverse health effects and impaired intellectual development. Only in those few countries where the use of lead has long been limited, by circumstance or by prudent policy, is lead poisoning relatively insignificant.

Worldwide, the following six sources appear to cause the greatest lead exposures: gasoline additives; food can solder; lead-based paints; ceramic glazes; drinking water systems; and cosmetics and folk remedies. Other significant exposures result from inadequately controlled industrial emissions from such operations as lead smelters and battery recycling plants. Our analysis found that the highest levels of environmental contamination were associated with uncontrolled recycling operations and that the most highly exposed adults are those who work with lead.

Table of Contents

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