India – Lead exposure is a major contributor to children’s intellectual disability

To read on Deccan Herald website:

Bright but deadly

Nidhi Jamwal, 21 June 2016
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A recent international study ‘Economic Costs of Childhood Lead Exposure in Low- and Middle-Income Countries’ by Teresa M Attina and Leonardo Trasande has put a monetary cost to lead exposure in India, and it’s a whooping $ 236 billion annually.

This one-of-its-kind study by the researchers of the Section of Environmental Pediatrics at NYU School of Medicine indicates that lead exposure is a major contributor to children’s intellectual disability in low-and-middle income countries (LMICs), including India.

Researchers have created an interactive map that estimates economic impacts of lead exposure in LMICs and peg it at a total of $ 977 billion. This is much higher than the economic impact of lead exposure in developed countries — Europe and the US at $55 billion and $50.9 billion respectively. This landmark study was recently released  at the United Nations Environment Assembly meeting being held in Nairobi, Kenya.

Lead, a heavy metal, is toxic in all forms. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), children around the world today are at risk of exposure to lead from multiple sources (see figure: Sources of children’s exposure to lead). Lead poisoning can affect virtually every organ system in the body — central and peripheral nervous system, the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, renal, endocrine, immune and haematological systems.

Exposure to lead has a permanent negative impact on children’s developing brains, including their intelligence quotient (IQ). Lead exposure early in life can reprogram genes, which can lead to altered gene expression and an associated increased risk of disease later in life, warns WHO. Gastrointestinal absorption of lead is enhanced in childhood — up to 50% of ingested lead is absorbed by children, as compared with the 10% in adults.

The study of NYU School of Medicine focuses on the neurodevelopmental impacts of lead, assessed as decrements (or reductions) in intelligence quotient (IQ) points, and how this translates into decreases in lifetime earning potential, assessed as lost lifetime economic productivity (LEP). By estimating the decrease in earnings potential (lost LEP) from children affected by lead, the researchers have estimated the economic cost of lead exposure in LMICs.

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