Lead pollution in food in Bangladesh has not yet received proper attention of the authorities concerned. The food chain in the country is now highly exposed to lead pollution.
Different research papers reveal that almost 100 per cent of vegetables, on examining samples in recent years, are found poisoned with lead. Fish and other food items are also found contaminated.
Prof. Dr. Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, chairman at Center for Atmospheric Pollution Studies (CAPS) and head of the Department of Environmental Science at Stamford University; said that there is an overmuch presence of lead in air, water and soil in the country. However, the lead accumulates in food through air, water and soil. As a result, lead contamination is now found in almost every food in Bangladesh, he added.
Lead is a chemically resistant and relatively soft metal as a non-biodegradable element which is found naturally in the environment.
According to experts, lead contamination and its consequent accumulation in food happen for various reasons, including fossil fuels, vehicle exhaust, suspended atmospheric particles, untreated and industrial waste, use of fertilizer and pesticide in agriculture.
Lead contamination was found in cereals, chicken, duck eggs, cow milk and some other food products.
According to the research, industrial areas, where lead smelting and lead-battery recycling, manufacturing and repairing are done, are found to have a dangerous level of lead contamination.
Researchers said that samples of vegetables collected from a number of industrial areas are found to have lead concentration as high as 22 milligrams per kilogram against the WHO standard of 0.01 milligrams per kilogram.
As per the research, the lead concentration in each kilogram of cereals such as rice, maize and wheat was found to be 1.9, 2.4 and 4.8 mg respectively, far beyond the permissible limit of 0.82 mg/kg.
Fish samples are also found to have alarming level of lead contamination. Fish samples collected from the Karwan Bazar in the capital had the highest lead concentration while Pangas fish contained lead about 62 times the WHO-permitted level.
Prof. Dr. Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, who is also in the research team, said that the level of lead contamination in food is now frightening. The consequences of such contamination are a hidden threat to the public health, especially for the neurological development of children.
According to the researchers, nearly one million poor people in Bangladesh are at risk of lead contamination.
The atmospheric lead pollution decreased in Dhaka and other parts of the country after the two and three stroke engines had been prohibited, but recently some environmentalists observed that incomplete fuel combustion from vehicles in urban areas is increasing the lead pollution in air.
Illegal recycling of used lead-acid batteries in the open-air and close to homesteads is a major source of lead exposure in Bangladesh.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation data shows that Bangladesh has the world’s fourth-highest rate of death because of lead contamination.
Exposure to high level of lead may cause anaemia, weakness and kidney and brain damage.
Mahbub Kabir, a professor at the Department of Chemistry of Jahangirnagar University; said that lead pollution hampers neurological growth of children and can cause many non-communicable diseases among adults.
He also said Bangladesh is historically exposed to lead pollution for the use of leaded fuel. Although it was banned in 2012, it is still in use.
However, lead-acid battery is becoming a major source of pollution in Bangladesh as the use of such battery has grown in the country.
Prof. Kamruzzaman Majumder said that the government must take initiatives to determine the level of lead contamination. Awareness among people can reduce the exposure to lead contamination and this is necessary to stop the threat that silently takes a heavy toll.
He said, “An ideal food system provides healthy diets for people. Many countries have recently begun routine monitoring and assessment of heavy metals like lead and mercury in food and plants. However, there is insufficient evidence on the level of heavy metal contamination in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Safe Food Authority, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, Department of Environment, and others concerned should work together in dealing with it.”