Initial Steps to Prevent Lead Exposure and Poisoning (part 4)

Initial Steps to Prevent Lead Exposure and Poisoning from the Model National Lead Safety Policy Proposal created by The LEAD Group – xii-xviii

Initial Steps to Prevent Lead Exposure and Poisoning (Pt4) @ LeadSafeWorld

xii) Incorporate all National Blood Lead Survey of All Ages results and individual findings from isotopic research into the National Blood Lead Surveillance System

Integrate all results from the National Blood Lead Survey of All Ages and include individual findings derived from isotopic research into the National Blood Lead Surveillance System, so that the conclusions and trends can feed back into the lead awareness media campaigns (see xiii, below).

xiii) Fund the implementation of campaigns to increase public awareness of lead and manufacturers, distributors and consumer of alternatives

Government-run and government-funded lead education and media campaigns will inform actions taken by the public and professionals in creating a lead-safe product or service, lead-safe home, workplace, educational setting, childcare facility, places of leisure and hobbies (for example, shooting ranges, hunting and fishing locations, leadlighting, ceramics and jewellery studios/workshops), communities, regions and nations, and finally, the world.

For example, government funding will be provided to NGOs along with government-developed information (which in some cases may have been derived by an NGO or research organisation) about all the measures above so that this information can be disseminated via relevant websites, for example, The LEAD Group, Heart Foundation, and similar (see the full list at Addendum 1, below).

Learnings from the National Blood Lead Surveillance System (see i, above) and the National Blood Lead Survey of All Ages (see x, above) need to be incorporated into lead education and media (including social media) campaigns funded by government and carried out by government and a range of NGOs.

Excellent examples of lead poisoning case studies and trends in sources and pathways of lead exposure, often based on NHANES data, can be seen at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) (CDC 2023).

Education and awareness campaigns to both consumers and manufacturers, distributors, and importers will include the existence of lead-free alternative products and ingredients. Some examples include:

  • Tin or tungsten as alternatives for radiation shielding from x-rays and radioactive materials in items such as leaded vests, walls, boxes, cubicles, nuclear reactors and so on
  • Artists paints for adults that are free from heavy metals
  • Stainless steel to replace brass or bronze plumbing products, lead weights, lead bookmarks, lead curtain weights, lead shot inside teddy bears and other posable soft toys, lead soldiers and other game models, and galvanized products
  • Non-leaded aviation fuels for general aviation (propellor-driven) planes and helicopters

As this National Lead Safety Policy is rolled out, the national government will be responsible for letting relevant non-government organisations (NGOs) know about all learnings that are discovered and their will be incorporated into outreach programs of these other organisations.

Lead education vitally extends to the provision of information on lead safety, exposure, poisoning and lead contamination prevention and management in training course material (including lectures and practical sessions).

This training information will help medical and health practitioners to identify potentially lead-exposed and lead-poisoned individuals and manage them appropriately; trades and building professionals to carry out lead-safe work, and all other professionals where lead exposure or lead contamination is a possibility to reduce lead exposure or lead contamination.

The public lead education and media campaigns might include, for example:

  • Podcasts, video and social media platforms
  • More traditional avenues, such as radio, television, newspapers, magazines, posters and art competitions
  • Industry publications
  • Online platforms to share fact sheets, articles and training courses (such as for D.I.Y. renovators)
  • Information including lead-risk questionnaires at doctors and veterinary clinics
  • Handouts at childcare and early learning centres, hardware stores (in the paint and plumbing sections), at shooting ranges, ammunition stores, at leadlighting, ceramics and jewellery studios/workshops, at local government offices and libraries
  • Online shops where leaded- and potentially leaded-products are sold
  • Mandatory labelling of products capable of causing lead exposure or contamination, for example:
    • “This heat gun/sander is not safe for use on leaded paint. Test the paint for lead at a laboratory before proceeding”
    • “This leaded solder must not be used in plumbing”
    • “This leaded PVC hose does not supply lead-safe water if left lying in the sun. Humans, pets, poultry and livestock should not drink water from this hose”
    • In any country where the WHO lead paint ban has not yet been legislated for all paint types, the paint types which contain more than 90 ppm lead or indeed have added other heavy metals, will be labelled. For example, artists paints for adults will list the concentrations of specific heavy metals in each tube/colour and general warning labels regarding the hazards of all the heavy metal ingredients, as well as the synergistic effects of exposure to combinations of heavy metals (see 3.2, below)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) have created the Lead Paint Alliance and, at the suggestion of The LEAD Group, have declared the last full Sunday-Saturday week of October each year to be International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action (ILPPWA).

The WHO/UN “Lead Week of Action”, or ILPPWA, is an opportunity for governments, NGOs and individuals to run annual lead events (at home, overseas or online) to increase public awareness of lead and inform relevant professionals of appropriate testing and actions towards lead-safety. All levels of government should consider their own ILPPWA events and funding for other organisations to run such campaigns.

Public awareness campaigns will be evaluated to ensure return on investment, including by repeat blood lead surveys after education/awareness campaigns in targeted sub-populations and, where relevant, the provision of lead testing kits with instructions for environmental sampling, comments and interpretation of the results (see vii, above).

xiv) Examine and utilise research into health and environmental impacts of lead and deficits caused by past lead exposure and their effect on the gross domestic product (GDP), in order to justify budgetary allocations to both a National Lead Safety Policy

As mentioned above, McFarland et al (2022) estimated that in the US alone, over 824 million IQ points were lost during the 100-year era of leaded gasoline use. The study recommends:

Such lead loss estimation efforts should be repeated across other domains believed to be influenced by lead exposure (including criminal behavior, personality, psychopathology, social mobility, cardiovascular disease, kidney function, and pathological brain aging). Doing so would generate a more complete understanding of the contributions lead exposures may have made to these important outcomes, the ultimate benefits to society from lead’s removal from gasoline (including, potentially, recent improvements in many of these outcomes) and the costs of ignoring existing lead hazards, including lead’s continued use in aviation fuel… and its wide underregulated use in commercial and industrial processes internationally.

McFarland et al (2022)

There are crossovers in the benefits to be gained through lead safety and climate crisis aversion policies due to:

  • Lead naturally occurring in soil, rocks and volcanic emissions and thus in all organisms, and therefore in all fossil fuels, coal tar pitch, dung and plants, especially within trees
  • Lead-exposed organisms displaying more lead-related symptoms at increased temperatures
  • Fires, floods, droughts, storms and other extreme weather events releasing and spreading lead contamination

National governments will take the following steps to both avert the climate crisis and reduce lead emissions:

  • Disallow new coal, gas and oil mines
  • Cease the export of all fossil fuels
  • End fossil fuel subsidies
  • Stop forest burning to create agricultural land
  • Promote vehicles, marine vessels and aircraft that are fuelled by renewable energy sources, and
  • Subsidise individuals and companies to reduce their carbon footprint, switch to renewable energy and minimise the burning of fossil fuels.

See The LEAD Group’s LEAD Action News Lead Poisoning and Climate Change (Whitton 2009) and fact sheet: What can I do about climate change AND lead? (O’Brien and Taylor 2009).

Refer to policy proposals on research at xvi, xviii, 2.6, 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3 (below).

xv) Fund posthumous blood and/or bone lead testing

Posthumous blood and/or bone lead testing will be carried out to determine the role that lead might have played in:

  • Severe air pollution mortality
  • Heatwave event mortality
  • Premature deaths, especially regarding its interactions with other morbidities
  • COVID-19 deaths

Taking this a step further, posthumous testing of all individuals will illuminate lead’s role in all-cause mortality and provide valuable incentive for preventing all lead exposure.

xvi) Utilise research on the effects of lead on fauna, flora, microbes and the environment to create environmental protection legislation

Research has already determined that lead harms wildlife and that plants stop growing in highly lead-contaminated soil and water, and that although soil biodiversity is generally depleted by lead contamination, some microbes and fungi can be utilised in bioremediation.

Every use of lead affects living organisms and their environment, whether it be exposure of farm animals, backyard chickens and aquatic life which allows lead to enter the human food chain; or the use of leaded ammunition and fishing sinkers which eventually harm wildlife; or allowing historical uses of lead, such as in paint and petrol and current uses of lead such as lead-acid batteries and AvGas, to be further distributed in the environment through poor management of demolition, paint on surfaces, storm water run-off, rainwater, dredged sediments, human sewage, and so on.

Legislation will be developed to:

  • Prevent the addition of rainwater tanks to buildings without first removing lead flashing and leaded paint, lead spouting, and other sources of lead and requiring a first flush diverter to eliminate freshly fallen lead dust from the tank water
  • Clean up shooting ranges and waterways where leaded ammunition and sinkers have been used and recycle the lead safely
  • Require product stewardship on lead-acid batteries so as to ensure that all used lead-acid batteries (ULABs) are collected and recycled lead-safely and to research the potential for a circular economy with lead-acid batteries such that new lead-acid batteries are made entirely from the lead in ULABs
  • Phase out lead mining, including setting policy to disallow the opening of new lead mines
  • Require environmental clean-up be funded by companies that have profited from lead-related activities
  • Lead mines will be phased out in favour of using recycled lead. New lead mines should not be necessary with the enormous amount of lead that is already in the world.

xvii) Legislate to ensure that the recycling of the biggest use of lead complies with the requirements of a circular economy

A circular economy is defined by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) as:

A circular economy entails markets that give incentives to reusing products, rather than scrapping them and then extracting new resources. In such an economy, all forms of waste, such as clothes, scrap metal and obsolete electronics, are returned to the economy or used more efficiently.

(UNCTAD n.d.)

The G7 acknowledged that “circular economy policies to improve design, reuse and safe recycling can contribute in addressing this issue [of lead and leaded waste management and reducing lead exposure in developing countries]” (G7 Environment Ministers 2022, see full Communiqué in Addendum 5, below).

“Approximately 86% of the total global consumption of lead is for the production of lead-acid batteriesmainly used in motorized vehicles, storage of energy generated by photovoltaic cells and wind turbines, and for back-up power supplies” (UNEP n.d.). “Nearly 99 million wet-cell lead-acid car batteries are manufactured each year [in the US alone]” (US EPA 2011).

Recycling rates for lead-acid batteries and the safety of recycling vary enormously from country to country. “Battery manufacturing accounts for greater than 85% of lead consumption in the world and recycling rate of lead–acid batteries in the USA is about 99%” (Prengaman & Mirza 2017).

Although the figure is similar in India, “A study found that 90 percent of lead batteries in India end up being recycled by unregulated small-scale operators…. There are many more [lead] contaminated sites than plants… [In] Bangladesh, where there are hundreds of informal companies, often breaking batteries and smelting their lead on vacant land… They keep getting chased off by the locals, but just move elsewhere, leaving behind thousands of contaminated sites” (Pearce 2020).

When new lead-acid batteries are made, 35% of the lead in them is freshly mined lead. Governments will need to legislate to transform the lead-acid battery manufacturing and recycling industries requiring them to create 100% recyclable lead-acid batteries in order to achieve a circular economy for lead-acid batteries. As Peter Hurley (O’Brien et al 2005) states:

[Lead-acid] battery makers can only use 65% of what [the recyclers] recover… [this is due to the use of lead-antimony alloy which is too corrosive to recycle into the anode plate].

If they used lead-tin alloys then they could reuse nearly all the material they recovered/recycled, provided they could keep it separate from the lead-antimony…

A lead-tin battery will last up to five times longer than a conventional lead-antimony battery, and [yet] the battery maker can’t get 5 times the profit from the better battery.

Peter Hurley (O’Brien et al 2005)

As can be seen, lead as used today in lead-acid batteries (ULABs) is not yet a green eternally recyclable metal, so producer responsibility is essential to the management of ULABs.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), also known as Product Stewardship, is a strategy to place a shared responsibility for end-of-life product management on producers, and other entities involved in the product chain, instead of the general public; while encouraging product design changes that minimize negative impacts on human health and the environment at every stage of the product’s lifecycle. This allows the costs of processing and disposal to be incorporated into the total cost of a product.

(CalRecycle 2023)

Governments will need to legislate for producer responsibility which mandates the use of 100% recyclable metal alloy in lead-acid batteries and the collection and lead-safe recycling of all the used lead-acid batteries that are already in the world (refer to see ii, above; Figure 5 in Addendum 2, below; and Addendum 5, below).

An example of lead-safe ULAB recycling certification is the Better Environmental Sustainability Targets (BEST) Certification for Lead Battery Manufacturers (OK International 2007).

xviii) Contribute to a global database of research of world’s best practice on Lead Exposure and Lead Poisoning Prevention

Governments will contribute all their success stories in terms of legislation and reductions in blood lead levels in their country to a global database of research of world’s best practise on Lead Poisoning Prevention, possibly to be developed by the World Bank, WHO or the UN, and promoted during International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action (ILPPWA).

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