Wednesday, Sep 04, 2002
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By Alladi Jayasri
The three-year project will develop a system for "lead audit" of major cities, from which lead content could be minimised at the source itself, the NRCLPI Director, T. Venkatesh, told The Hindu.
Lead poisoning has been identified as a major environmental disease affecting nearly everyone who lives in urban areas. Children, pregnant women, and occupational workers are especially vulnerable to it. In India, over 50 per cent of children living in many major cities have elevated levels of lead in their blood of over 10 micrograms per decilitre.
In Bangalore, lead-laden air is generally concentrated in industrial areas, and the `backyard smelter centres" where the unorganised sector is engaged in recycling lead.
High levels of lead in blood can damage the heart, the kidneys, the liver, the circulatory system, and most importantly, the central nervous system. The last often means reduced IQ level and learning ability in young adults.
The NRCLPI, which was set up after an international conference in Bangalore 1999 where the priority areas for prevention and treatment of lead poisoning were identified, has already set in motion many of the measures to "de-lead" the environment.
The centre is a nodal one for lead monitoring in Asia, and Dr. Venkatesh says the work at NRCLPI is aimed at replicating the New York City model. Lead levels in children were monitored every decade beginning in the Seventies and, hearteningly, they have come down steadily. "From this audit, we can conclude that the New Yorkers have managed their environment well and kept it relatively lead-free," Dr. Venkatesh said, adding that he was seeking to do the same here.
There are ample indications that India needs such a map. The country needs about 1.8 lakh metric tonnes of lead annually. Recycling is about 60 per cent. But here comes the crunch: 80 per cent of the recycling is handled by smelters in the unorganised sector, where smelting is a cottage industry carried on in utterly unsafe conditions.
Although one can only guess at the extent of lead poisoning in Bangalore, Dr. Venkatesh has been monitoring different sections of the populace for the past couple of years. Industrial areas where exposure is an occupational hazard, children below 12, and industrial and commercial centres are regularly monitored.
Dr. Venkatesh says that in Anekal industrial area, there could be a high concentration, and in Tilaknagar, a South Bangalore down-market locality, the cottage industry could be playing havoc with the residents' health.
Without waiting for the lead map to be available for prescribing an antidote to lead poisoning, Dr. Venkatesh says there are a few dos and don'ts that will help keep the lead out of the environment.
People who work in industrial areas must be screened every six months and a child's blood lead-level must be noted the moment it is born and screened every year. He has also sought the help of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board to monitor air, water, and soil quality. The lead level in drinking water exceeds WHO recommendations of 50 parts per million by two or three times, giving ample cause for anxiety.
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