Poisoned by Lead


Emergency lead cleanup in Nigeria
blacksmithinstitue, via Flickr

Joshua Leo and Liz Waid look at the danger of lead poisoning. They share the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning, and the ways to reduce your risk.

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Transcript


Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I'm Joshua Leo.

Voice 2

And I'm Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

It was a medical mystery. In several small villages in Northern Nigeria, the children were suffering. They seemed tired and they had high fevers. The bodies of these children shook violently. Finally, many of them died. What was killing the children in northern Nigeria?

Voice 2

Today's Spotlight is on lead. This metal is found everywhere in the world. It is used in many products. But it can be very dangerous. It is especially dangerous for young children and pregnant women. On today's Spotlight we will look at the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning. And we will look at ways to reduce your risk from suffering from lead poisoning.

Voice 1

Kaci Hickox is a nurse from the United States. She works with Medecins Sans Frontieres - Doctors Without Borders. This organization brings medical aid to people around the world who need it most. In March 2010 she was sent to work in Nigeria. She was a medical team leader. She wrote about her experiences for Doctors Without Borders.

Voice 2

Kaci and her team were bringing vaccines to small villages in Nigeria. These vaccine drugs would protect the people from measles and meningitis. These diseases are often deadly. Some members of Kaci's teams travelled to far-away villages looking for new cases of these diseases.

Voice 1

In May 2010, Kaci received a call from one of the nurses on her team. The nurse told her about the village of Yargalma. Only 2,000 people lived in this village. But in the past three months, 40 children there had died.

Voice 2

This news seemed strange to Kaci. She decided to investigate the village. The children of Yargalma suffered from high fevers. They suffered from seizures that made their bodies shake. Kaci and her team thought the children might be suffering from an extreme form of malaria. They gave the children very strong malaria medications. But the children did not improve. They were still getting worse.

Voice 1

Frank Peters was working with Kaci. He noticed that the people of the village were mining gold nearby. The gold was surrounded by ore - other earth and minerals. Men usually mined the ore and brought it home. Then women processed the ore. They removed the ore from around the gold. They worked in their homes and with their children. Frank knew that ore can contain harmful metals. So, Frank and Kaci took small samples of people's blood. They sent it to be tested.

Voice 2

The results of the blood tests were shocking. Levels of lead were many times above normal or safe limits. The children were suffering from extreme lead poisoning. Seven villages were affected by the lead outbreak. Richard Fuller works with the Blacksmith Institute. They are helping to clean up the affected villages. He says that blood lead levels in some people were higher than the equipment could measure.

Voice 1

But the lead was not just inside people's bodies. The dust from the ore was on the ground. It was inside houses. A UN report said that almost one third of the water wells in the villages contained a harmful amount of lead. Even the drinking water was not safe. Lead was everywhere.

Voice 2

Kaci and her teams began treating people immediately. They especially concentrated on the children and pregnant women. Slowly, the health of affected children started to improve. But lead is persistent. Some children will carry the negative effects of lead poisoning for the rest of their lives. It has permanently changed their bodies.

Voice 1

Experts estimate that over 400 children have died because of this lead poisoning. And 30,000 other people have also been poisoned by the lead. Experts say agree that this is the worst outbreak of lead poisoning on record.

Voice 2

Lead is a natural metal found all over the world. Lead is dangerous because it travels easily through a person's body. And wherever lead goes in a person's body, it can cause harm. For example, lead damages the red blood cells. This limits the blood's ability to carry oxygen through the body. Then a person becomes anemic. His body does not have enough oxygen to work correctly.

Voice 1

People can come in contact with lead through many different forms. In the past many products contained lead - products like paint, gasoline, and water pipes for houses. Even today, lead is in many things like cooking materials, toys, jewellery, bullets, canned food and some herbal medicines. Food grown in lead-rich soil can contain lead. Water running through lead pipes carries it directly into some homes.

Voice 2

A small amount of lead in the body does not usually cause harm. But higher levels can cause permanent damage. Lead poisoning does not usually happen very quickly. Instead, small amounts of lead build up in a person's body over a longer period of time.

Voice 1

Lead affects children and pregnant women most severely. Children's brains are still forming. The lead interferes with normal development. And pregnant women pass on lead to their unborn babies. Lead even passes through breast milk. Lead poisoning in children and unborn babies can lead to learning disabilities and behavior problems. These are permanent problems. In children and adults lead poisoning can also cause damage to hearing, poor muscle control, and problems with muscle and bone growth. It causes a person to be tired. Lead poisoning can lead to seizures, a coma, or even death.

Voice 2

It is not easy to avoid lead. But there are ways to lower the risk of being near lead. Here are a few:

Voice 3

Avoid products that contain lead. Do not use leaded gasoline. Do not use pipes that contain lead. If you must use lead pipes for water, make sure to run cold water through the pipes in the morning before drinking the water.

Voice 4

Lead is a serious problem in many industries. Workers should be sure there are health rules that protect them from lead.

Voice 3

Do not use lead paint. Do not let children eat particles of lead paint that fall off.

Voice 4

Watch groups of people who are more at risk for lead poisoning. They may show signs of lead poisoning first. These are small children, pregnant women, and industrial workers.

Voice 3

Test the blood lead level of children who are at risk. If levels are too high, get them medical care.

Voice 2

Every person can be affected by lead. But knowing the risks of lead can save people from another situation like the one in Nigeria.

Voice 1

The writer and producer of this program was Liz Waid. The voices you heard were from the United States. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called "Poisoned by Lead."

Voice 2

You can also leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at radio@radioenglish.net. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye!

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Question:

Are you concerned about the presence of the metal lead in your area?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
witchdalat
said on April 18, 2011

i heard lead with high level is harmful but i don’t image it is so dangerous like that. it destroys red blood cells and prevents the process oxygen’s transition.
Lipstick, gasoline, paint,... also have lead but how can we know if that product has lead? if having, which level is safe for people?
i wonder: what the use of lead in some products are? we can replace lead by another material with the same use.

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LarisaF
said on May 08, 2012

Lead is not the only danger that is lurking in many things and products that we buy. Are you confident in the absolute harmlessness of each purchased product? I’m not ...

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Narath
said on May 17, 2012

Could you please give us more tips to protect ourselves from the Lead ? and do you have any solution to reduce some Lead in our body? if people try to drink a lot of water per day to make their body cool so it is able to reduce some Lead or not ?


From Cambodia

Luis Piedra's avatar
Luis Piedra
said on June 13, 2013

Good program
Thanks by the information.

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Dela
said on June 18, 2013

The pollution of the environment is a big worldwide problem. A fact the different poisons are all about us is well known. The poisons are everywhere, in food, water, air, cosmetic products, clothing, Controlling is unsatisfactory, for that reason is necessary to increase the number of controls just as the number of the controlers. Checking is right, however, dispite of that the most of the people will be still suspicious and they will probably keep their disbelief in everything around them.
Very popular topic! Thanks!

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leandro renan
said on June 15, 2018

I didn’t know that lead were so dangerous and there were many stuffs with contains lead.
I will check in my city if the goverment does have some care about it.It is the fist time
that I hear many of informations about lead.a subject like this needs to be discussed and disseminated with every society.Every people needs to know about the risks and the harm that lead causes.