Global Status of the Problem

Devan Boone, Angel Reyes, Zoe Jobgen

Globally, a third of children (approximately 800 million) have a higher than safe blood lead content (5 micrograms per deciliter). Low and middle income countries, or less developed countries, are still struggling to combat sources of lead exposure in children. About half of children with unsafe blood lead content live in South Asia (The Toxic Truth Report, n.d.). 

The National Institute of Environmental Health Scientists explains that “The report quantifies the pervasive nature of childhood lead exposure on a country’s economy, estimating the total cost in lost economic potential in LMICs of nearly $1 trillion. In Africa, costs as a percentage of gross domestic product is nearly 4%, according to the report.” The report cited in this quotation is the UNICEF and Pure Earth report cited in other parts of this analysis. The physical health effects of lead poisoning have long term effects not just on individual health, but on nationwide economies as well. The institute also explains that lead exposure can correlate with increased rate of violence and crime due to behavioral and cognitive problems caused by lead exposure (Richards, 2020). 

Lead exposure comes from a variety of sources, however, a leading cause of lead exposure is improper disposal of lead-containing batteries. Increasing numbers of cars in lower income countries has led to an increase in lead acid batteries, which are not recycled properly due to lack of regulation on how they are recycled. Other sources of lead exposure are lead paint, pipes, gasoline, or in things like spices or cosmetics. Sometimes, individuals working in areas with high lead exposure are not even aware of the detrimental effects that it has on themselves and their children due to a lack of education or awareness about lead poisoning (Richards, 2020). 

Lead exposure has the largest presence in South Asia, the greater Middle East (including Northern Africa), and Sub-Saharan Africa. There are also problems with lead exposure in Central and South America. Denmark, Finland, and Japan tie for the lowest lead exposure rates in the world, and Afghanistan comes in last according to the Environmental Performance Index (Yale, n.d.)


Richards, D. (2020, October). New report highlights magnitude of global lead poisoning in children. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The Toxic Truth Report. Pure Earth. (n.d.).

Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. (n.d.). Lead exposure. Environmental Performance Index.

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