Lead exposure costs Bangladesh $15.9 billion annually and this cost exceeds the amount Bangladesh receives in development aid annually, said a study.
The study, Economic Costs of Childhood Lead Exposure in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, developed by Department of Pediatrics at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, was released yesterday at the United Nations Environment Assembly meeting being held in Nairobi, Kenya.
The NYU researchers said: “One of the most important things we can do to decrease children's exposure to lead in LMICs (low- and middle-income countries) is to ensure lead is no longer used in household paint and other paints to which children may be exposed (such as paints on playground equipment).”
Researchers on the study assessed the neuro-developmental impacts of lead, assessed as decrements in IQ caused by lead and how those reductions translated into decreases in lifetime earning potential, assessed as lost lifetime economic productivity (LEP).
While this had been done for developed countries, for LMICs the researchers adopted a different method because of the lack of data on blood lead levels (BLLs).
For countries where BLL data were not available, they developed a regression model to predict mean BLLs in children. From this, the researchers estimated IQ loss for each country over a range of BLLs, the percent lost LEP per IQ point, and the total lost LEP in the countries.
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A study by Bangladesh Agricultural University in 2015 found that cadmium, arsenic, mercury and lead were present in high levels in everyday food due to water and soil pollution from industrial effluents, phosphatic fertilisers and the burning of fossil fuels. Cartoon by: Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy.
According to the World Health Organisation, there is no known safe blood lead concentration. When a young child is exposed to lead, the harm to their nervous system makes it more likely that the child will have difficulties in school and engage in impulsive and violent behavior.
Lead exposure in young children is also linked to increased rates of hyperactivity, inattentiveness, failure to graduate from high school, conduct disorder, juvenile delinquency, drug use and incarceration.
“Children developing brains are permanently harmed by exposure to lead. One key impact is reduction in IQ score, which is correlated with decreases in lifetime earning potential. For the nation as a whole population-wide reductions in IQ means greater social costs and reduced intellectual capital, and other factors that adversely impact Bangladesh’s economy, as the NYU map clearly shows,” said Shahriar Hossain, secretary general of Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO), told the Dhaka Tribune.
ESDO carried out a study between 2011 and 2014 analysing the lead content in paints sold in Bangladesh, the findings of which was released as a 'National Report on Lead in New Enamel Household Paints of Bangladesh,'
That study found that most paint companies in Bangladesh sold paints with high lead levels. Some were large regional companies that had already phased out lead paint in other countries.
By 2013, however, leading paint brands in Bangladesh with major market share had largely stopped producing paints containing more than 600 parts per million (ppm) lead. And by 2015, based on ESDO’s most recent paint analysis, all paint from brands representing 84% of market share contained less than 90 ppm lead and would comply with the most stringent paint regulation anywhere in the world.
“The research and the map released clearly demonstrate that lead exposure greatly erodes the gains from development aid and that sustainable development will be severely hindered as long as childhood exposure to lead continues,” Hossain said.
Worldwide the cost of lead exposure, according to the NYU research, is $977 billion international dollars with economic losses equal to: $134.7 billion in Africa (4.03% of gross domestic product (GDP) in that region); $142.3 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean (2.04% of GDP in that region), and $699.9 billion in Asia (1.88% of GDP in that region).