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Lead Poisoning Report – by iGEM IITD

Lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal found in the Earth’s crust in very low proportions. Due to its widespread use, there have been serious public health issues, environmental damage, and human exposure in many different parts of the world.

Lead can have harmful effects on one’s health even at low concentrations. When lead accumulates in the body, frequently over months or years, it can lead to a serious issue of lead poisoning.

iGem IIT Delhi recently surveyed 80+ IITD students to assess lead poisoning awareness in the IITD community; The survey was conducted with the purpose of assessing the current level of understanding regarding lead poisoning and to spread awareness about it.

The findings suggested a concerning level of unawareness in the community about the sources of lead exposure and the harmful consequences of its prolonged exposure.

Lead: Is it a nutrient?

Nutrients are substances used by the body for growth and maintenance. Lead is toxic in nature and isn’t required by the body. 84.1 % of respondents also feel the same, but it’s shocking to know that around 15.9 % of the people taking this survey from the top technological institution in the country believe otherwise.

Lead: How lethal is it !?

  • Around 2.3% of people believe that Lead is not dangerous at all. It’s glad that only 2.3% of the 15.9% of people who believed lead was a nutrient believe lead is harmless assuming that the people who believe lead not to be a nutrient definitely don’t see it as harmless.
  • While the rest believe lead is toxic, they don’t think that it makes the top cut.

Do you know someone who had tested themselves for lead poisoning?

This question was intended to spread awareness amongst the masses about lead poisoning and the low rate of testing in India. 93.2% of people have never encountered anyone who has undergone testing for lead poisoning. This figure is alarming as various reports have shown that Lead poisoning is quite common in India, and so there seems to be a low rate of testing in the test group.

Is there a cure for Lead Poisoning?

  • The opinions on this question seem to be split evenly, with 44.3% of the people believing the disease to be non-curable.
  • While 55.7% of the people correctly believe that there is a cure for lead poisoning.

One of the common cures is EDTA-based chelation therapy. Depending on the severity of exposure, lead poisoning can be treated accordingly; therefore, detection at the primary stages is of utmost importance. Still, current detection methods are only available at high-end labs, so iGem IIT Delhi trying to create a biosensor quantifying lead which is relatively cheap and has the potential to be used at the decentralised level.

Have you checked your water supply for leaded pipes?

  • Only a tiny fraction of 4.5% of people have their pipes checked, while most people are unaware whether their water supply pipes are leaded or not.

This question was intended to make people question whether their water supply had leaded pipes, potentially exposing them to lead. There was an image attached with the instructions to perform a simple test to check for leaded pipes.

Are paints used in whitewashing can be a source of Lead Poisoning?

  • 59.1% of people strongly agreed that paints used for homes contain lead and can be a potential source of lead poisoning.
  • 35.2% of people were unsure about the same, while a very small fraction of people denied paints to be harmful.

Lead is added to paint to speed up drying, increase durability, maintain a fresh appearance, and resist moisture that causes corrosion. India banned lead-based paints in 2016, following the footsteps of countries like the USA, Sweden, etc. Still, some paint manufacturers use lead in their paint. This question was intended to make people consider whether the paint used for whitewashing their homes was lead-based or not. Since 35.3% of people never thought about paint as a potential source, there seems to be a serious requirement for spreading awareness about it.

Can exposure to Lead lead to anti-social behaviour?

  • A fair share, 65.9% of respondents, agreed that exposure to lead could cause antisocial behaviour in people.

A key symptom of lead poisoning is depression and irritability. The respondents show a good awareness of it, yet when discussing anti-social behaviour lead poisoning is often overlooked.

Is someone who is using ammunition exposed to Lead poisoning?

59.1% of respondents agreed that people who use ammunition are exposed to lead poisoning.

Bullets used in shooting ranges are made up of lead. When those bullets are fired, lead fumes are emitted, leading to exposure to lead amongst the people associated with those shooting ranges.

Do you live with someone directly exposed to Lead as a part of their job? (Defence ammunition, Fishers, Hunters, Construction workers, painters, mechanics, electricians, makes ceramics, pottery, stained glass or jewellery)

  • 83% of the respondents replied negative to the above question, this shows that occupation might not be the major reason for exposure in India.

Lead exposure occurs in the workplace in a number of professions. This raises the likelihood that workers and their loved ones will suffer from lead poisoning. In India, occupation contracts often neglect the effect of exposure. This question was intended to make people introspect if they know someone who can be at risk of lead exposure due to the occupation of their known ones.

83% of the respondents replied negatively to the above question.

Can Eating Food Packed in Newspapers Expose You to Lead Poisoning?

  • 42% of people replied with Yes, while 19.3% believed that packing food in newspapers cannot expose you to lead poisoning. Rest were unsure.

The printing ink used in newspapers contains lead, so when the food is wrapped in newspapers, the food picks up the ink and exposes consumers to lead poisoning. In 2016, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued a pan-India advisory, banning newspapers from being used for wrapping food items. However, we know that food is still being packed in newspapers in India. Given that nearly 1 in 5 people think otherwise, there seems to be a serious lack of awareness.

Written by: Rajat Golechha, Unnati Goyal

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