Lancet study exposes dire consequences of lead in India

Urgent measures needed to tackle India's looming lead health crisis


A study published in 'The Lancet Planetary Health' has unveiled the staggering toll of lead exposure on the health and economy of India. The research, conducted by World Bank researchers, sheds new light on the devastating consequences of lead contamination, calling for immediate attention to this pervasive health threat.

In a shocking revelation, the study found that lead exposure was responsible for a substantial number of adult deaths from cardiovascular disease in India. In 2019, a staggering 1 million adult deaths, representing 19 percent of the global total, were attributed to lead exposure. These findings highlight the urgent need for measures to mitigate lead contamination and protect the cardiovascular health of the Indian population.

The research identifies everyday products commonly contaminated with lead in India, including aluminum cooking pots, toys, paint, spices, and kohl eyeliner. These findings serve as a critical warning to consumers and authorities about the importance of product safety and stringent quality control measures.

This research is not limited to India alone. Globally, lead exposure caused 5.5 million adult deaths from cardiovascular disease in 2019 and resulted in the loss of 765 million IQ points in children under five. Up to 95 percent of these effects occurred in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), underscoring the global nature of this health crisis.

Childhood IQ loss

Lead exposure doesn't discriminate by age, as the research indicates. The study estimates that children under the age of five in India collectively lost a staggering 154 million IQ points due to lead exposure in 2019. This alarming loss of cognitive potential threatens the future of India's youth and underscores the necessity of safeguarding children from lead contamination.

Economic impact

The financial cost of lead exposure in India is equally concerning. The study reveals that lead exposure cost the nation a staggering US$259 billion in 2019 alone, equivalent to a significant 9% of India's GDP for that year. This economic burden not only hampers national development but also places a heavy strain on healthcare systems.

Calls for action

Prominent figures in the study, such as Dr. Thuppil Venkatesh and Lavanya Nambiar, emphasize the need for immediate action. Dr. Venkatesh, who chairman of the Indian Society for Lead Awareness and Research, stated that that "lead exposure not only causes economic damage and reduction in IQ but also pushes the poor into deep poverty." Nambiar, acting director of Pure Earth India, added, "To solve lead pollution and save lives, we need to monitor and stop lead contamination in our cookware, toys, paints, foods, spices, and other products.

The Lancet Planetary Health study unveils a distressing portrayal of the detrimental impact of lead exposure in India and across the globe, both on health and the economy. With urgency, the study emphasises the need for immediate action to combat this pervasive health hazard. The proposed measures include implementing stricter regulations, enhancing product safety protocols, and allocating more resources towards lead mitigation solutions.