The government should initiate environmentally sound management (ESM) and regulate the unauthorised recycling of used lead-acid batteries (ULAB) to prevent health risks and environmental pollution, experts said at a workshop on Wednesday.
"The government needs to work seriously on the used lead-acid batteries issue," said Syed Marghub Murshed, chairperson of the Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO).
"In this regard, ESDO will provide them [the government] with any help they need to bring the informal sector under the regulation."
ESDO organised the programme in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Lead Association in Dhaka.
According to ESDO's assessment report, there are more than 6,000 informal and illegal ULAB recycling operations across the country.
These informal and unsound ULAB recycling operations are believed to be a significant contributor to the population's lead exposure across the country and the primary contributor to lead pollution hotspots, it added.
The workshop disclosed that, to date, 270 locations have been identified and assessed by environmental health professionals from Pure Earth, a New York-based environmental organisation, and the Department of Geology at the University of Dhaka.
These assessments revealed high concentrations of lead in surroundings, informal ULAB recycling operations and severe public health risks to nearby residents.
Siddika Sultana, executive director of ESDO, said, "According to the World Health Organisation, there is no safe level of lead exposure in the human body."
"ESDO is urging the government for environmentally safe management in ULAB recycling in both the informal and formal sectors in Bangladesh. In turn, it will reduce child labour in this sector because young children are at the greatest risk of lead poisoning as it causes irreversible neurological damage," she added.
A study of the economic impacts of lead exposure estimates that each year Bangladesh loses $15.9 billion from a reduced lifetime earning potential among the exposed population.
Brian Wilson, consultant of International Lead Association; Francesca Cenni, programme officer of Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions; Nicoline Lavanchy, project development analyst of UNEP; Minjoon Kim, health specialist of UNICEF Bangladesh, Dr Md Mahbubur Rahman, project coordinator of the Environmental Intervention Unit, icddr,b; and Dr Shahriar Hossain, secretary general of ESDO, spoke at the seminar.
Many of them participated in the programme virtually.
In view of the broad range of steps to limit mismanagement and informal recycling of ULAB, the environmentally sustainable usage of ULAB in Bangladesh, the training workshop suggested a strategy plan for governments.