By Ogova Ondego
Published January 14, 2015
Do you live in a town in Africa? Do you experience any problem ranging from drowsiness, muscle cramps and stomach pain and from vomiting to loss of short term memory, impaired hearing and learning problems?
You could be suffering from lead poisoning that is becoming common in African towns in which motor vehicles and factories are concentrated while forests have been cleared to pave way for sky-scraping concrete, metal and glass buildings.
Contrary to conventional belief that urbanisation presents better prospects in life, the opposite could be the case when it comes to health matters. Urban dwellers stand a higher chance of being exposed to deadly emissions like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide than their rural counterparts.
Health specialists contend that pollution from car exhaust fumes can cause a wide range of illnesses ranging from asthma to lead poisoning.
A report of International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IRCRCS) states that 90% of children in some African cities are affected by lead poisoning. The report says that it is only in Africa where lead poisoning levels are rising as African fuels have the world’s highest lead content; the substance is used to improve the performance of motor vehicle engines.
Food crop like sukumawiki (kale) vegetables planted near major highways take in lots of lead from motor vehicle exhaust fumes. When these crops are harvested and eaten, the lead in them gets into the blood stream of those who feed on them. Livestock like goats and cows which graze near major roads inhale lead and when they are slaughtered for food their meat contains the lead which could poison the eater.
When held up in traffic snarl-ups, motorists and their passengers, too, inhale these poisonous fumes.
Expectant and breast-feeding mothers who are exposed to motor vehicle exhaust fumes may pass lead to their foetuses and babies. A pregnant woman who ingests any amount of lead passes it to her foetus through the placenta. Women who work with lead in factories are said to suffer higher rates of sterility, miscarriage, premature birth and birth defects.
Scientists say that lead causes men’s sperms to be malformed and that this may lead to their being sterile or to their fathering deformed babies.
Awake! magazine quotes a doctor as saying, “Lead may be linked to high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attack as well as kidney disease.”
Mistaking lead for calcium, the human body makes no effort to eliminate it and so it roams about freely wreaking havoc wherever it goes. It inhibits the production of haemoglobin, damaging the blood’s oxygen carrying ability.it attaches itself to key enzymes in the brain and the nervous system, thus rendering them useless.
Children, experts say, are particularly more vulnerable to lead poisoning than their adult counterparts because their brain and nervous system are still developing. Consequently, they are affected by much lower level s of lead than those that affect the latter.
The IRCRCS report notes that phasing out lead fuel will certainly address one health issue but that the global problem of fumes will worsen as the growth in motor vehicle number and kilometers travelled is expected to outpace any likely improvement in motor vehicle emissions.
And the threat of lead poisoning is not confined to vehicular emissions. Walls and windowsills of most town houses, like plumbing, solder, toys and furniture, are painted with lead paint. Awake! notes that a smooth painted wall does not pose any health problem. However, as it ages, cracks and peels, it becomes a hazard as it may be blown in the air as dust and get into peoples’ bloodstreams.
Plastic shopping bags are printed with leaded ink. When these bags are reused and the ink starts peeling off, lead may get into the food. Researchers warn that these bags be not turned inside out as the leaded ink can contaminate the food being carried in it.
Food cans have seams joined by lead solder while water fountains have tanks with seams of lead-based solder. Town dwellers drink piped water that contains lead as it flows through pipes that are joined by lead solder.
For those who use tap water, Awake! advises that they should allow the cold water to run for a while before drawing it. This is particularly so if the water tap has been turned off for more than six hours. The running for a while will help flush out any contaminated water.
“Never use hot tap water for drinking and cooking. There will likely be more lead in hot taped water than in cold tap water”, warns Awake!
For anyone who drinks from electric fountains, Awake! cautions that they let the water run for a few seconds before each use.