Mapping "hot spots" to prevent debilitating lead poisoning in children: WHO

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Gold-panners in western Madagascar © Guy Oliver/IRIN

There's a warning out on lead poisoning of children in mining countries.

The Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO) says countries – especially those with a long mining history — can substantially reduce lead poisoning in children by mapping contamination levels in the soil to identify high-risk areas and by taking measures to keep children away from those areas.

The study published this month in the public health journal, compares lead contamination levels in the soil in and around two mining areas in Peru, one of the world's top producers of silver, copper, gold, zinc and lead.

It found dangerously high levels of lead in the soil of Cerro de Pasco, a historic Andean mining town, where copper mining continues. But levels were lower in another area called Huaral, which has a modern mine and ore processing plant.

Dr Alexander van Geen is the first author of the study and a research professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York.

He warns that exposure to lead during early childhood results in lower intelligence and behavioural problems, adding that "The best way to tackle the problem is to prevent it in the first place, by stopping children from ingesting soil contaminated with lead." Van Geen explains that this can be done by fencing off high-risk areas and, in severe cases, by removing and replacing contaminated soil or relocating families living in highly contaminated areas.

Donn Bobb, United Nations.

Duration: 1’21″

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