Urgent attention needed to prevent lead pollution


“Together, we can end the lead pollution” with this call to action, Pure Earth Bangladesh in coordination with the Department of Environment (DoE) and the support from USAID, OAK Foundation, Swiss Agency for Development and Corporation SDC has organised a virtual workshop titled ‘Advancing a Lead Pollution and Health Roadmap for Bangladesh’. This is to convening stakeholders and to share the state of knowledge around lead exposure from all sources in Bangladesh, and to lay the groundwork for a unified approach to lead exposure reduction. 

The speakers of the event have shared many recommendations that emphasised establishing a multi-stakeholder approach within the leadership of the relevant government ministries to eradicating lead pollution, develop a national inventory on lead pollution sources, prepare comprehensive lead pollution studies, and a time-bound action plan. The speakers have also pointed out the occupational health and safety hazards of working with lead, increasing the monitoring process of the Ministry of Industry and Ministry of Commerce on the import of lead chromate as a pigment, and effective industrial waste management.

Bangladesh is one of the most lead-impacted countries in the world. It experiences the 4th highest rate of death from lead exposure. More than 36 million children are exposed to lead with an average of approx. 7.5 μg/dL blood lead level, almost double than the suggested common health guidelines of the World Health Organisation. Comparing the severity of this situation to the covid pandemic, the Chief Guest of the event Ahmed Shamim Al Razi, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change said that Covid and lead pollution are silent killers. The chief guest has committed to phasing out lead as one of the biggest priorities of the ministry. “The Department of Environment will take the lead in a joint, multi-stakeholder approach to  eradicating lead pollution,” he said. 

Expressing concern in this situation the Chair of the event Mr. Md Ashraf Uddin, Director General, Department of Environment (DoE) said, “We are unknowingly eating and breathing poisonous lead. We need to raise public awareness about how the lead is increasing our environmental and health risks. Its damage to the human body and environment is irreparable.” Lead pollution is not the only environmental, health, and economic issue, it impacts on education, societal stability and violence, and climate solutions. 

Andrew McCartor, VP, Strategy, and Partnerships, Pure Earth said that the government has to take the lead role in devising a national strategy for the handling of this problem. We need to address the lack in a common set of goals and strategies to advance a holistic national approach. “If lead is in soil, it stays hundred years if it is not cleaned. This is a continuous threat to generation after generation,” he said.

The participants and speakers have urged to transfer the ULAB recycling from informal to formal sector, and enforce the laws and regulation with proper monitoring mechanism. There were also suggestions to organising various training sessions and workshops to enhance the knowledge and skills of stakeholders related to lead pollution, and raise awareness through media engagement.