The International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is celebrated in the third week of October each year.
This year the theme is ‘Say No to Lead Poisoning‘ and recognizes the additional urgency of action needed to eliminate all sources of lead exposure.
The aim of the week of action is to:
- raise awareness about health effects of lead exposure;
- highlight the efforts of countries and partners to prevent lead exposure, particularly in children; and
- urge further action to eliminate lead paint through regulatory action at country level.
Lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal found in the Earth’s crust. Its widespread use has resulted in extensive environmental contamination, human exposure and significant public health problems in many parts of the world.
Important sources of environmental contamination come from mining, smelting, manufacturing and recycling activities and use in a wide range of products.
More than three quarters of global lead consumption is for the manufacture of lead-acid batteries for motor vehicles. Lead is also used in many other products, for example pigments, paints, solder, stained glass, lead crystal glassware, ammunition, ceramic glazes, jewellery, toys, some cosmetics such as kohl and sindoor, and traditional medicines used in countries such as India, Mexico and Viet Nam.
Drinking water delivered through lead pipes or pipes joined with lead solder may contain lead. Much of the lead in global commerce is now obtained from recycling.
Exposure to lead-contaminated soil and dust resulting from battery recycling and mining has caused mass lead poisoning and multiple deaths in young children in Nigeria, Senegal and other countries.
Once lead enters the body, it is distributed to organs such as the brain, kidneys, liver and bones. The body stores lead in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Lead stored in bone may be released into the blood during pregnancy, thus exposing the fetus. Undernourished children are more susceptible to lead because their bodies absorb more lead if other nutrients, such as calcium or iron, are lacking. Children at highest risk are the very young (including the developing fetus) and the economically disadvantaged.
Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead because they absorb 4–5 times as much ingested lead as adults from a given source. They can suffer profound and permanent adverse health impacts, particularly on the development of the brain and nervous system.
Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight.
There is no known safe blood lead concentration; even blood lead concentrations as low as 3.5 µg/dL may be associated with decreased intelligence in children, behavioural difficulties and learning problems.
Nearly half of the 2 million lives lost to known chemicals exposure in 2019 were due to lead exposure.
Lead exposure is estimated to accounts for 21.7 million years lost to disability and death (disability-adjusted life years, or DALYs) worldwide due to long-term effects on health, with 30% of the global burden of idiopathic intellectual disability, 4.6% of the global burden of cardiovascular disease and 3% of the global burden of chronic kidney diseases.
Link to the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week 2022 site:
Link to WHO fact sheet on lead poisoning and health: