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6 April 2010 | Printer friendly

Reducing the risks of lead to children

Country: Russia

Project: Reducing the risks of lead to children

Organisation: Far Eastern Environmental Health Fund

Representative: Petr Sharov

Email: psharov@fehealthfund.org

Winner of the Hazardous chemicals and Radiation category of the 2nd CEHAPE Awards for good practice in environment and health.

Changing the earth to prevent lead poisoning

Eight years ago, Petr Sharov at the Far Eastern Environmental Health Fund looked at research from Bunker Hill in Idaho, USA where action had been taken to reduce lead contamination in the gardens of family homes. Bunker Hill is an area contaminated by lead mining and smelting plants. Knowing that the same problem existed in the mining areas of Dalnegorsk District, he decided to copy the successful US model.

He began work before he had managed to secure full funding for the project. Early activities included mapping the mining areas for lead and cadmium, which were considered to be the two main and most toxic pollutants. In 2007, when full funding became available, medical teams monitored local children for lead levels in their blood and provided information to parents on how to reduce their children‘s exposure.

However, the biggest task, as in the Bunker Hill clean-up project, was to remove lead-contaminated soil where children play. Priority was given to playgrounds of young children where lead in the soil was measured at over 500 parts per million. Thanks to the efforts of the Far Eastern Environmental Health Fund, the contaminated top-layer soil and sand in seven kindergartens has now been replaced with clean earth. This represents a total area 16,400 square meters.

The benefits for children‘s health have been encouraging. In 2007, 22% of children in the Dalnegorsk District had blood lead levels over 10 ug/dl (international safety standard). Over the next two years the playground soil replacements and educational advice to parents took place. By 2009, only 11% of children had lead levels above the safety limit.

The challenge now is to reach families in the town of Rudnaya Pristan - the most contaminated part of the valley. During the first round of activities, the project activities did not reach this area. About 60% of the 500 children living in this community have blood lead levels above 10 ug/dl.

Lead poisoning of children exists in many parts of Russia, Central Asia countries of Eastern Europe. The project was expensive (US$500,000 over two years) but the findings show that it works. The project would not have been possible without the partnership of Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland. The organisers say that it is already being copied by a non-governmental organisation in Kazakhstan. They hope it can also be used as a model in other areas of Russia where there is lead contamination.


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