Congo-Kinshasa: Lead Over-Exposure Harms Children

Children in developing countries continue to be exposed to lead levels that are high enough to permanently affect their long-term well being, report researchers who studied exposures in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Leaded gas, car battery recycling and eating fired clay during pregnancy contributed the most to the high lead levels measured in the children.

The findings highlight the extent and magnitude of the problem. Virtually every child under 3 years old and half between the ages of 3 and 5 tested in the study had elevated lead levels. More than three times as many city kids had elevated levels when compared to those living in rural areas

Lead is an extremely common metal that can be found almost anywhere. Some common sources of lead include: water, paint, electric storage batteries, insecticides, auto body shops, gasoline, etc.

Most of the dysfunctions produced by the absorption of lead are due to lead's ability to mimic and inhibit the actions of calcium. In humans the lead is directly absorbed, distributed, and excreted. Once in the bloodstream lead is distributed to three main compartments: blood, soft tissue (kidney, bone marrow, liver, and brain), and mineralized tissue (bones and teeth). Lead effects children and adults in different ways. Low lead levels in children can side effects including nervous system and kidney damage, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and decreased intelligence, speech, language, and behavior problems, hearing damage and seizures, and death.

In adults high levels of lead in their systems can cause increased chance of illness during pregnancy, harm to a fetus, brain damage or death, fertility problems (in men and women), high blood pressure, digestive problems and muscle and joint pain.

City dwellers had a higher prevalence of elevated blood lead levels than those who lived in the rural communities.

Lead dust levels in the homes were up to 26 times higher than those recommended by the U.S. Agency. Lead from gasoline and car battery recycling contaminated the indoor dust and air.

A third big source of exposure was fired clay, which naturally contains lead. Pregnant women use the clay to treat nausea during pregnancy. Children whose mothers had eaten the clay while pregnant had significantly higher levels of lead in their blood.

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