Around 35.53 million children – 0 to 19 years old – are exposed to lead poisoning in Bangladesh with their blood lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per decilitre – the amount at which action is required, according to a Unicef report.
Moreover, around 9.68 million children in the country have been affected by lead poisoning when there is at least 10 micrograms of lead in their bloods.
The report named "The Toxic Truth: Children's exposure to lead pollution undermines a generation of potential", an analysis of childhood lead exposure conducted by the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation and verified with a study approved for publication in Environmental Health Perspectives, which is launched by Unicef and Pure Earth on Thursday.
The report said up to 800 million or one-third of the world's children have been poisoned by lead and nearly half of these children live in South Asia.
Around 378.65 million children affected by the toxicity of lead in South Asia, in which the highest number of children live in India (275.56 million), followed by Pakistan (41.12 million).
Bangladesh contains the third-highest number of lead-poisoned children in South Asia, followed by Afghanistan (19.45 million) and Nepal (6.72 million).
In the region, lead levels are low in the Maldives (0.007 million), Bhutan (0.02 million) and Sri Lanka (0.24 million).
Spices, batteries harm the most in Bangladesh
The report highlighted that people in Bangladesh are highly exposed to lead contamination through spices. Some manufacturers mix lead with turmeric to enhance the yellow colour, which is sometimes 500 times higher than the national level. Stanford researchers found lead-based adulteration in 7 out of 9 turmeric producing districts.
On another note, the report mentioned that the former lead-based battery recycling site in Kathgora – 15 kilometres northwest of Dhaka. The former lead recycling sites were heavily contaminated with lead (over 100,000 ppm, US EPA limit 400 ppm).
According to the World Bank, around 1100 informal recycling sites put millions of people at risk.
Health impacts and economic loss
Lead is a chemical substance which may be considered as neurotoxin. It has a negative effect on children's brains, especially those under five, as lead damages their brains before they fully develop. As a result, it may keep a lifelong mark on their neurological, physical and cognitive health.
Through this channel, lead exposure in childhood has an adverse effect on mental health and may increase crime and violence.
These effects are linked to economic loss too. According to the report, the economic cost of childhood lead exposure is $977 billion in low- and middle-income countries.
However, the loss accounts for $55 billion in the European Union and $50.9 billion in the United States.
Henrietta Fore, executive director at Unicef, said, "Knowing how widespread lead pollution is – and understanding the destruction it causes to individual lives and communities – must inspire urgent action to protect children once and for all."