Lucknow, Nov 21
In a shocking revelation, a study conducted by the King George’s Medical University (KGMU) has found that exposure of children in Lucknow to lead — a toxic substance that can damage the nervous system — is about four times higher than the permissible limit.
The study, covering 60 urban schools across 10 districts in India and involving 2,247 participants aged 6 to 16 found that Lucknow ranks second in blood lead levels (BLL) of 19.2 microgram per decilitre (µg/dl).
It is second only to Karnataka’s Manipal district which has recorded the highest level of lead content (30.2 µg/dl) among the cities studied. BLL 5 µg/dl set is considered safe, as per the Centre for Disease Control.
The study has been published in the ‘Indian Journal of Pediatrics’ and was conducted between April 2019 and February 2020.
It was found that in eight districts, the lead levels exceeded the recommended limit. Professor Shally Awasthi, the lead researcher and former head Pediatrics Department at KGMU, stressed the importance of urgent attention to safeguard the health of children.
She explained that lead, a metal widely used in industries, poses a threat to children and adolescents due to its quick absorption and detrimental health effects, particularly on the central nervous system.
Highlighting the probable elevated lead levels in children, Awasthi said that earlier studies conducted in Lucknow have found elevated lead concentrations in rainwater and ground water assessment.
“Lead is also found in enamel paints used to colour idols and toys and that can also be a source,” she added.
She further said that Manipal reported excessive lead contamination in water of Swarna River which is the main source of drinking water for the district as well as in ground water and soil after a coal-based thermal power plant became operational there in 2012.
Similarly, water quality indices of Jojari River in Jodhpur reported presence of lead in sufficiently high concentration.
Explaining the adverse effects, Professor Awasthi said that lead exposure in children is associated with various health issues, including anxiety, depression, aggression, inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and irritability.
Despite the discontinuation of petrol with lead in India, industries remain a major source of environmental lead contamination, claimed Dr Divas Kumar, the second research lead of the study.
Children from lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds are exposed to significantly higher levels of lead compared to children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. The study found that children from lower socioeconomic households had blood lead levels (BLLs) that were four times higher.
Children from lower socioeconomic households had an average BLL of 21.1 μg/dl, while children from lower middle class were 7 μg/dl.
Prof Awasthi said previous studies reported that lack of parental education and low family income are associated with high BLL, which is in concurrence with the findings of current study that BLL is higher in participants with low SES.
“This could possibly be due to lack of awareness, among less educated parents, about sources of lead exposure in the environment affecting health,” she added.
Lucknow, Nov 21