Friday, June 6, 2008

Delhi children at risk due to lead in household dust

A new study by Toxics Link, has revealed alarmingly high level of lead in household dust in Delhi. This has serious implications especially for children who ingest the dust while playing, and is surprising since lead in petrol has been removed since 2000.

It indicates that there are other sources of lead, such as paints, which could be contributing to these levels. It is not unlikely that the situation is similar in other cities in the country.
Over 57 households, all over the city were sampled for lead level in floor and windowsill dust, 31% of the samples of floor dust tested contained levels of lead that would be considered hazardous by the USEPA; whereas 14% of the samples of windowsill dust tested contained levels of lead that would be considered hazardous by the same agency.

Not unique to Delhi
Toxics Link thinks that the problem of high levels of lead in house dust is not unique to Delhi, but is common to other cities in India. More study is needed to confirm this and immediate action should be taken. After removing lead from petrol it is now time to remove lead from all interior and exterior household paints.

“India must legislate the removal of lead from products such as paints and toys to ensure a healthy future generation, unaffected by this dangerous heavy metal. It is time the industry stops quibbling and take immediate action since the issue is more than half a century old, and such products are not permitted in developed countries. Do we want a future generation which has a compromised intelligence?” asked Ravi Agarwal, Director, Toxics Link.

This is the fifth study in the series from Toxics Link on presence of heavy metals in our lives such as lead and mercury. The study titled: Dusty Toxics: A Study on Lead in Household Dust in Delhi unravels the high presence of the heavy metal even in the safe environs of one’s house.
The study collected wipe samples for settled dust from both floors and interior windowsills from 33 homes and 24 apartments during the winter of November-December 2007 following USEPA’s method.

A total of 155 dust wipe samples were collected (which including field blanks) from these homes located in six parts of Delhi, viz., North Delhi, South Delhi, South-West Delhi, West Delhi, East Delhi and Central Delhi. The sampling zones were divided into North Delhi, South Delhi, East Delhi, West Delhi, Central Delhi and South West Delhi.

On average 4 to 5 samples of dust from settled dust from inside windowsill was collected as well as from the floor and under the furniture. The average lead loading for floor samples is 36.24 µg/ft2. The average lead loading values for windowsill samples is 129.48 µg/ft2.
The range of values for floor dust samples range from 0 to 221.57 µg/ft2, while for windowsill dust samples the range is 3.88 µg/ft2 to 558.48 µg/ft2.

US standards
“Safe” levels for children have been constantly revised downwards. Even the USEPA is now considering revising the current permissible levels of lead in children’s blood.
Presently 10µg/dl in children’s blood is considered hazardous but recent studies have proven otherwise and even 5 µg/dl or less have proved to be significantly hazardous. It is major source of concern for child - health as intelligence is permanently affected in these children.
Lead is a heavy metal, highly toxic, which reduces intelligence for life, especially in children. Household dust is a major source of childhood lead exposure. Although children are known to eat paint chips, contaminated dust and soil are often the most significant sources of exposure for children.

Exposure may also occur from lead paint when smaller particles become airborne during sanding and scrapping while repainting and remodeling. In addition, damaged paint and the weathering of paints on the exterior of buildings also contribute to lead in soil and exterior dust.
Contaminated soil is a particularly significant source of exposure to children. Ingestion of contaminated soil, interior and exterior dust and lead based paint chips are important sources of lead exposure in infants and young children.

Harmful to children
Childhood lead exposure adversely affects cognitive and behavioural development. Poor muscle coordination and decreased muscle growth can also occur. High levels of blood lead can lead to severe stomach cramps with seizure. No level of lead in blood is considered safe.
Even low quantities of lead intake in children can damage their nervous system and kidneys. Studies are finding adverse affects of lead at lower and lower levels. The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that IQ loss can be expected from blood lead levels as low as 5 µg/dl. Some researchers now argue that public health interventions should be triggered when a child’s blood level is above 2 µg/dl.

Toxics Link would recommend paragraph 57 on Health and Sustainable Development from the Plan of Implementation World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), Johannesburg, 2002.Toxics Link had also published two other significant studies on this heavy metal namely Toying with Toxics in 2006 and Brush with Toxics in 2007.

Dr. Abhay Kumar who has been instrumental in exploring various possible lead exposure pathways said: “After phasing out of lead from gasoline it is desirable of the government to move further ahead and take necessary steps to regulate use of lead in products such as paint, which is the prime contributor of lead contamination of dust. Lead contaminated dust the important pathway for children’s lead exposure. Keeping standards voluntary is a serious compromise with the health and well being of future generations. These standards should be made mandatory.”

For more information contact:
Ravi Agarwal: +919810037355
Dr. Abhay Kumar: +919868739792
Prashant Pastore: +919968205393
Pragya Majumder: +919811864256

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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