Home History books Why lead poisoning isn’t confined to the history books yet

Why lead poisoning isn’t confined to the history books yet


Britons of a certain generation will remember the dangers posed by lead poisoning, which affects several bodily systems – causing vomiting, abdominal pain, fatigue and much more. It is particularly detrimental to the development of the nervous system in young children.

Over the past century, exposure to the toxic metal has increased in the UK. The widespread use of lead in everyday products, including paint, children’s toys, jewelery and car batteries, meant that the UK population was at risk of exposure in many areas of life. life, especially those who worked in heavy industry.

Still, clear progress has been made over the years to eliminate the threat in the UK and much of the west. In 1992 the UK banned most lead-based paints, while leaded petrol was banned in 2000.

Coma, convulsions and death

The number of UK workers under medical supervision for lead poisoning meanwhile fell from 21,113 in 1992/93 to 7,162 in 2009/10, according to data from the Health and Safety Executive. And only one child death was recorded in England between 1981 and 1996.

“With lead poisoning, we kind of learned about the clog in the 20th century. [for] how to deal with toxins and pollutants in the environment,” says Andy Meharg, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast. “We are better able to regulate chemicals now.”

But although the UK has virtually eradicated deadly lead poisoning in children, the global outlook paints a grimmer picture. In many countries, especially those in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, lead-based products are favored, despite their health risks, to stimulate economic growth.

As a result, around 800 million people have blood lead levels above the safe limit of 5 µg/dl, according to Unicef, the consequences of which are likely to reverberate in the form of neurological disorders in the years to come. come.