Dr. Jack Caravanos, clinical professor of environment public health sciences with New York University College of Global Public Health, had an article, “Lead Intoxicated Children in Kabwe, Zambia”, published in ScienceDirect this week.
Kabwe is the fourth largest town and capital of the central province of Zambia. The town has a long history of mining, which operated for more than 90 years and produced large quantities of lead (Pb) and zinc (Zn) until closure in 1994. As a result, it has extensive lead contaminated soil and children in Kabwe ingest and inhale high quantities of this toxic dust.
Lead is a toxic substance and chronic exposure causes serious adverse health effects. The pathways of exposure are mainly ingestion of Pb contaminated soil and dust, but inhalation as a route of entry can also be significant. Pb can cause acute and chronic intoxication. High exposure can cause severe colic-like abdominal pains, neurological symptoms, seizures, encephalopathy and finally death.
The aim of Dr. Caravanos’ paper is to analyze the health impact of this exposure for children. Health data from three existing studies were re-analyzed. Over 95 percent of children living in the most affected townships had high blood lead levels (BLLs) > 10 µg/dL. Approximately 50 percent of those children had BLLs ≥ 45 µg/dL. The existing data clearly establishes the presence of a severe environmental health crisis in Kabwe which which warrants immediate attention.