Taking on Lead Poisoning Globally

From Dr. Brown's discussion, “Lead Poisoning: An International Concern.”
From Dr. Brown's discussion, “Lead Poisoning: An International Concern.”

On December 2, 2013, the department of pediatrics and the Global Health Center at Einstein hosted a lecture, "Lead Poisoning: An International Concern," presented by Dr. Mary Jean Brown, chief of healthy homes and lead poisoning branch at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and adjunct assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Students, researchers and physicians filled LeFrak Auditorium to hear Dr. Brown's talk.

The event commenced with opening remarks and an introduction of Dr. Brown by Dr. Morri Markowitz, director of the lead poisoning treatment and prevention program at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore. Dr. Brown then discussed the leading sources of lead exposure and its toxic effects, particularly in young children, and steps being taken by CDC and other organizations to curb it.

Lead poisoning causes cognitive impairment — and at very high levels, it can lead to seizures, coma and even death — in young children. In spite of being preventable, it continues to remain a major health hazard. According to the statistics Dr. Brown shared, in the United States alone, approximately half a million children between the ages of 1 and 5 have blood lead measures higher than recommended levels, requiring the need for follow-up.

"Among the major sources of lead exposure are lead-based paint and objects, and dust and soil contaminated with lead," Dr. Brown noted. "The problem is more severe in developing countries, where people often recycle large numbers of lead batteries through crude techniques that make it difficult to control the contamination."

She then offered the example of Zamfara, an impoverished rural state in Nigeria, where lead poisoning in children has reached epidemic proportions due to widespread extraction of gold from lead-laden rocks done cheaply in flour mills. By collaborating with local health agencies and religious leaders, the CDC has been able to raise awareness about this health risk, advocate safer mining practices and provide therapy to thousands of afflicted children.

The evening concluded with a question and answer session.


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