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4 June 2008
Household dust can be deadly
Children across the country are exposed to lead poisoning even in their homes, according to a study conducted by an environmental NGO based in Delhi. The organisation, Toxics Link, found alarmingly high levels of lead in household dust in New Delhi, with wall paint being the main source.
Dust wipe samples were collected from floors and window sills in 57 households in Delhi – and 31% of the samples of floor dust and 14% of the window sill dust samples contained levels of lead that would be considered hazardous by the US Environment Protection Agency.
“While the study, ‘Dusty Toxics: A Study on Lead in Household Dust in Delhi,’ has been done in only one city, the situation is likely to be similar in other Indian cities. We will be conducting a similar study in Chennai by December,” says G. Arun Senthil Ram, programme coordinator, Toxics Link, Chennai. This has serious implications, especially for children who are likely to ingest dust while playing.
Lead is a highly toxic heavy metal, and once ingested, it remains within the body and can affect the blood, brain, nerves and intestines. “It can show up as anaemia or abdominal pain in children. At low levels there is a subtle change in behaviour with the child becoming hyperactive or drowsy. It also affects a child’s attention span,” says Dr Balasubramanian, senior consultant (paediatrics), Child’s Trust Hospital, and president of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, Chennai.
Safe levels of lead for children have been constantly revised downwards – though there is no real ‘Safe level’. The World Health Organization suggests that lead levels as low as 5 fg/dl in the blood can cause IQ loss. Children between the ages of one and three are particularly vulnerable as they often eat things such as soil and flaking paint. Lead poisoning symptoms do not usually show up till the levels are very high and it is difficult to diagnose. “In some states in the US, children are screened for lead poisoning during routine blood tests,” says Balasubramanian. “But we don’t do it here unless we suspect it. The test is expensive and very few labs in the city are equipped to do it.”