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Soaring Lead Pollution in Bangladesh: A Threat to Health and Economy

By Salman Akhtar
Soaring Lead Pollution in Bangladesh: A Threat to Health and Economy
Escalating Lead Contamination in Bangladesh: Alarming Consequences for Public Health and National GDP

Bangladesh Grapples with Lead Pollution Crisis

Bangladesh is grappling with the grim reality of soaring lead pollution, ranked as the fourth most lead-impacted country globally. A recent study in the Lancet Planetary Health journal reveals that the damaging impact of lead exposure in the country is far more severe than previously understood, with dire consequences for children, adults, and the nation’s economy.

The Staggering Impact on Children and the Economy

The study paints a troubling picture: lead pollution has devastating implications for children under the age of five. These young individuals collectively face a loss of over 20 million IQ points. Such drastic neurological impacts result in decreased cognitive abilities, learning challenges, and behavioral disorders in children. The financial toll of these health effects is monumental, costing Bangladesh about US$10,897 million, equating to 3.6% of its annual GDP.

But the repercussions don’t end with the young. Adult health, particularly cardiovascular health, is also severely compromised. There’s a shocking rise in cardiovascular disease deaths in adults aged 25 or older, with lead exposure responsible for a mortality rate that is four times higher than prior estimates. Combining the economic costs of health consequences across all age groups, the country witnessed a loss ranging between 6% and 9% of its GDP in 2019.

(Read Also: Bangladesh Witnesses Surge in Financial Deficit at Start of FY24)

Sources of Lead Exposure in Bangladesh

Understanding the origin of the problem is crucial. In Bangladesh, lead pollution is primarily attributed to recycling used-lead acid batteries informally, lead-infused paint, aluminum and ceramic foodware, toys, cosmetics, and electronic waste. Additionally, certain spices, fertilizers, and cultured fish feed have been identified as potential sources.

Voices from the ‘Lead-safe Bangladesh Coalition’

The alarming findings have sparked concern among various stakeholders. The “Lead-safe Bangladesh Coalition,” an alliance encompassing NGOs, INGOs, researchers, academicians, and environmental health experts, is at the forefront of this concern.

Dr. Shahriar Hossain of the Eco-Social Development Organization (ESDO) emphasizes the pressing need for stringent standards for industrial paints, urging national and multinational companies to adhere to these standards. He champions continuous advocacy and a collaborative approach involving diverse stakeholders to address this pressing issue.

Echoing similar sentiments, Dr. Md Mahbubur Rahman from the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, accentuates the urgency to utilize the available evidence and formulate interventions targeting the root of the problem.

(Read Also: Bangladesh Prepares to Launch Its Premier Electrical Testing Laboratory to Bolster Power Sector)

Moreover, Dr. Mahfuzar Rahman, the country director for Pure Earth in Bangladesh, urges prioritizing the environment, given the substantial health and economic burdens inflicted by lead exposure. He emphasizes the importance of stringent regulations and investments in research to implement effective risk reduction strategies.

Sheldon Yett, the UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh, poignantly captures the essence of the crisis. He elucidates that even though lead exposure might not exhibit immediate discernible symptoms, its long-term consequences can derail a child’s overall health and developmental trajectory.

(Read Also: Bangladesh Introduces E-Driving License: A Step Towards Digital Transformation)

A Roadmap Forward: Recommendations to Combat Lead Pollution

To mitigate the lead crisis, a ten-point action plan has been proposed. This comprehensive plan advocates for:

  1. Analyzing lead sources and devising specific interventions.
  2. Establishing robust blood lead level surveillance.
  3. Strengthening multi-sectoral collaborations.
  4. Enhancing monitoring capabilities.
  5. Re-evaluating and enforcing existing policies, laws, and regulations.
  6. Remediation of toxic sites.
  7. Building the capacity of stakeholders to address the problem effectively.
  8. Elevating national awareness levels.

As Bangladesh confronts the profound challenges posed by lead pollution, international cooperation, robust policy interventions, and increased public awareness will be paramount in safeguarding the health of its citizens and the vitality of its economy.


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