Mitigating Lead Poisoning in Rural Communities

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Mitigating Lead Poisoning in Rural Communities

In this programme ICENS investigated the effects of lead exposure on foods and people between 1995 and 2005.  The work was carried out in three successive projects, each one supported by a research grant from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ):

PROJECTS 

  1. “Mitigation of Lead Hazard in the Hope Mine Area” (1995–96) mapping of lead contamination in the Hope mine area, to define the hot-spot area and to mitigate the lead hazard.
  2. “Improvement of Community Health in the Hope River valley through Lead Abatement” (2000–02) focusing on community health, isolating the remaining lead contamination areas by testing food, dust, air, water, paint and other possible sources of lead exposure.
  3. Childhood Screening for Lead Poisoning and Lead Mitigation in Jamaica” (2003–2005) testing blood levels of lead in children across Jamaica in the age group 3-7 years, beginning in inner city schools in Kingston, Montego Bay, Mandeville, Port Antonio and Browns Town, and extending to rural areas.

 

RESULTS

About 1000 children at basic schools were screened for blood lead to identify risk areas for further examination.  The response and cooperation of parents, teachers and children was excellent.  The ‘hot-spot’ areas where mapping and analysis of survey samples by ICENS indicated highest risk were examined in detail to identify possible sources of lead exposure, e.g. soil, dust, water, food, and cooking utensils.  A community-based intervention programme was developed (including education of the public, the parents, teachers, and children on how to minimize exposure to lead) and targeted at the population at risk.  The study results provided a database which will be used for future monitoring of blood lead levels of Jamaican children.

 The range of blood lead levels observed for Jamaican children was very large (see graphics) and eighty children were given medical attention, several receiving repetitions of chelation therapy over periods of time.  In later life, high levels of chronic exposure to lead can contribute to seizures, reduced intelligence, lower productivity and aberrant, sometimes violent behaviour that place social and financial burdens on society.  The higher blood lead values were found mainly in the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporate area and in St. Catherine.   It was possible to reduce most of the high levels by isolation of the contamination from the environment, education, and improved nutrition and hygiene, although there remain some intermediate values which should receive attention.

 The main sources of exposure to lead in Jamaica have been mine waste in and around Kintyre, about 600 metres ESE of Papine and just under a kilometer from the abandoned Hope Mine.  Elsewhere, for example in St Catherine, the contamination caused by backyard recycling of used lead-acid batteries is the chief source of lead exposure in Jamaica.   Mine waste seems to have been effectively dealt with by isolating it beneath layers of marl and concrete, a method that can be recommended wherever feasible.  The smelter-contaminated soils so far identified are mainly in St. Catherine and in the Corporate area; some smelters have also been observed on fishing beaches.  Other potential sources exist, most of which are already regulated by the government: the sale of leaded gasoline for automobiles, leaded paints, and toys, trinkets etc. that contain lead are banned.  Food and water appear to contribute little to population exposure.

 One of the most valuable aspects of the project was raising the awareness of the general population about the incidence and risks of lead poisoning. ICENS also established useful collaborations with the medical fraternity.  Both outcomes helped to improve the discovery of lead poisoned children and the care they receive.

 Interventions, including the building of an awareness of the nature and risks of chronic lead poisoning amongst health care providers and caregivers, helped to reduce the immediate and future dangers of lead poisoning.  In the longer term the reduction of blood lead levels in children nationally will require concerted action not only in education and regulation but also by adopting aggressive prevention and case management including the development of a small public health unit which has this responsibility.  The infrastructure and technical skills to do this are available, and it is reasonable to expect that in the near future the blood lead levels of most Jamaican children will meet international norms.

The range of blood lead levels observed for Jamaican children was very large (see graphics) and eighty children were given medical attention, several receiving repetitions of chelation therapy over periods of time.  In later life, high levels of chronic exposure to lead can contribute to seizures, reduced intelligence, lower productivity and aberrant, sometimes violent behaviour that place social and financial burdens on society.  The higher blood lead values were found mainly in the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporate area and in St. Catherine.   It was possible to reduce most of the high levels by isolation of the contamination from the environment, education, and improved nutrition and hygiene, although there remain some intermediate values which should receive attention.

The main sources of exposure to lead in Jamaica have been mine waste in and around Kintyre, about 600 metres ESE of Papine and just under a kilometer from the abandoned Hope Mine.  Elsewhere, for example in St Catherine, the contamination caused by backyard recycling of used lead-acid batteries is the chief source of lead exposure in Jamaica.   Mine waste seems to have been effectively dealt with by isolating it beneath layers of marl and concrete, a method that can be recommended wherever feasible.  The smelter-contaminated soils so far identified are mainly in St. Catherine and in the Corporate area; some smelters have also been observed on fishing beaches.  Other potential sources exist, most of which are already regulated by the government: the sale of leaded gasoline for automobiles, leaded paints, and toys, trinkets etc. that contain lead are banned. Food and water appear to contribute little to population exposure.

One of the most valuable aspects of the project was raising the awareness of the general population about the incidence and risks of lead poisoning. ICENS also established useful collaborations with the medical fraternity. Both outcomes helped to improve the discovery of lead poisoned children and the care they receive.

Interventions, including the building of an awareness of the nature and risks of chronic lead poisoning amongst health care providers and caregivers, helped to reduce the immediate and future dangers of lead poisoning.  In the longer term the reduction of blood lead levels in children nationally will require concerted action not only in education and regulation but also by adopting aggressive prevention and case management including the development of a small public health unit which has this responsibility.  The infrastructure and technical skills to do this are available, and it is reasonable to expect that soon the blood lead levels of most Jamaican children will meet international norms.

Decrease in Blood Lead Levels in Kintyre Basic School (1996)

Before intervention (February 1996)

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