Rural pregnant women in Bangladesh are exposed to lead poisoning from food and oil stored in cans as well as from pesticides, herbicides and turmeric powder, found a study jointly by the ICDDR,B and the Stanford University in the United States.
The findings on ‘Prevalence of elevated blood lead levels among pregnant women and sources of lead exposure in rural Bangladesh: A case control study was on May 24 posted online by US journal Environmental Research.
The study followed 5,551 women from their first or second trimester of pregnancy and analysed the blood lead levels of 430 pregnant women, who were randomly selected from rural communities of Mymensingh, Tangail, and Kishoreganj districts.
Out of the 430 women, 132 or 31 per cent had blood lead levels higher than five microgram per deciliter, found the study.
The study reveals that about 31 per cent pregnant women had blood lead levels higher than five microgram per deciliter and six per cent had elevated levels of blood lead higher than 10microgram per deciliter.
The highest level of blood lead was detected at 29.1microgram per deciliter.
A pregnant woman’s past or present exposure to lead puts her unborn baby at risk, doctors said.
Lead exposure can affect the unborn child’s brain, causing developmental problems later in life and impairing cognitive development.
Fetuses exposed to lead before birth may be born early or underweight, they said.
‘The issue of lead exposure was found to be very diverse and broad,’ research team member and ICDDR,B’s Immunobiology, Nutrition and Toxicology Laboratory head Rubhana Raqib told New Age.
‘It will require major policy and regulatory actions, coordination across levels of government, and public and private investments,’ she said.
For a case-control study, 57 women were selected with the highest blood lead levels of higher than seven microgram per deciliter and 59 women were selected with the lowest blood lead levels of less than two microgram per deciliter.
Side by side with the blood tests, the researchers spoke to the women and soil, rice, turmeric, water, traditional medicine, agrochemical, and can samples were analyzed to ascertain the status of their lead contamination.
The study found that the group with the highest blood lead level pregnant women consumed foods stored in cans and prepared their daily meals with cooking oil stored in cans.
The group of pregnant women with the highest blood lead level was found to have been exposed to Basudin pesticide and Rifit herbicide as the agrochemicals were sprayed near their homes.
Besides, seven of the 17 turmeric samples collected from the homes of the pregnant women exposed to lead contamination in excess of the acceptable limit of 2.5 per microgram per gram of turmeric set by the BSTI.
But the turmeric samples were not packaged.
One of the unpackaged unbranded turmeric samples contained 265 microgram of lead per gram of turmeric and 49 microgram of chromium per gram of turmeric, found the study.
During the study, twenty-five samples of unhusked, husked, and powdered rice were collected from local grinding mills associated with participants with the highest level of lead in their blood.
The study shows that 50per cent of the ground rice samples had a lead concentration above the level of detection, but the maximum lead concentration was only 0.1 microgram per gram of ground rice.
The ‘elevated blood lead levels appeared to be a widespread problem in many districts across rural Bangladesh,’ reveals the study.
‘There does not appear to be a single source of lead exposure in this context that can provide a simple focus for prevention, but rather several sources that require further investigation including lead-soldered cans, agrochemicals, rice grinding, and turmeric’, it said.
Rubhana Raqib said that exposure to high levels of lead in pregnant women’s blood can cause various pregnancy related complications or birth outcome such as gestational hypertension, spontaneous abortion or miscarriage, impaired neurodevelopment, premature birth, still birth, low birth weight and so on.
She called for blood lead testing of the inhabitants of industrial areas as they are exposed to high risk of contamination for detecting the lead exposure sources.
She also called for raising public awareness about the harmful effects of lead contamination particularly on children and pregnant women.
Rubhana advised the authorities to reduce lead contamination in food and consumer products and lead free pesticides and fertilizers.
She advised the government to make a law stipulating punishments for the crime of food poisoning and other poisoning of soil, air and water by industries.
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