GENEVA – An estimated 1 million people die from lead poisoning annually and millions more, many of them children, are exposed to low levels of lead, causing lifelong health problems, the World Health Organization said on Monday.

The health effects from lead poisoning include anemia, hypertension, immunotoxicity, and toxicity to the reproductive organs, the WHO said in a statement, marking the 10th International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (ILPPW).

WHO said the neurological and behavioral effects of lead could be “irreversible.”

“Lead exposure is especially dangerous to children’s developing brains and can result in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), attention span, impaired learning ability, and increased risk of behavioral problems,” said Dr. Maria Nera, head of the WHO’s environment, climate change and health section.

“This preventable harm to children’s brains leads to a tragic loss of potential,” Nera added.

Say no to lead poisoning

“Say no to lead poisoning” is the 10th International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week theme to raise awareness about lead poisoning and encourage all countries to take action to prevent lead exposure, particularly in children.

Lead is toxic to multiple body systems, including the central nervous system and brain, the reproductive system, kidneys, the cardiovascular system, the blood system, and the immune system.

Lead exposure is estimated to account for 21.7 million years lost to disability and death (disability-adjusted life years) worldwide, due to long-term effects on health, according to WHO.

It estimates that 30 percent of idiopathic intellectual disability, 4.6 percent of cardiovascular disease, and 3 percent of chronic kidney diseases can be attributed to exposure to lead.

There is no safe level of exposure to lead, which harms health, particularly children’s health.

According to UNICEF estimates, one in three children – up to 800 million globally – have excessive blood lead levels.

There are many sources of lead exposure in industrial settings like mining and smelting, recycling of electronic waste and lead-acid batteries, plumbing, and ammunition.

They exist in settings that could expose children and adolescents, particularly in developing economies.

Exposure can also occur in non-industrial settings, as lead paint can be found in homes, schools, hospitals, and playgrounds.

Significant progress

“We have made significant progress,” said Lesley Onyon, WHO head of the Chemical Safety, Environment, and Climate Change and Health unit.

“The world has seen a significant reduction in the use of lead in paint in the last 10 years with more than 84 countries now having legally binding controls to limit the production, import, and sale of lead paints.”

He noted there is also a global ban on leaded petrol.

“Lead poisoning is entirely preventable through a range of measures to restrict uses of lead and to monitor and manage exposures. That is why this year we are widening the scope to prevent all sources of lead exposure,” said Onyon.

Important sources of exposure include environmental contamination from the recycling of lead-acid batteries and poorly controlled lead mining and smelting operations.

Others include lead-containing traditional remedies, lead ceramic glazes used in food containers, lead pipes and other lead-containing components in water distribution systems, and lead paint.

WHO calls upon all countries to ban lead paint, identify and eliminate all sources of childhood lead exposure, and educate the public regarding the dangers of misusing lead-containing products. (Anadolu)