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Of all the sources of lead poisoning, used lead acid batteries are considered the most dangerous, Professor Gerald Lalor, Director of the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences (ICENS), has said.
He said while cases of lead poisoning have been associated with some containers that store rum and exposure to lead mine waste, by far too many cases were associated with used lead acid batteries.
Professor Lalor was speaking at the recent launch of the Used Lead Acid Battery (ULAB) Project in Kingston, which aims to minimise the threat posed to public health and the environment from the improper disposal of used lead acid batteries. Exacerbating the problem, he said, was the fact that there was money to be made from illegally smelting used acid lead batteries to build new ones to sell.
Aside from the issue of smelting used lead acid batteries, Professor Lalor emphasised that further attention had to be paid to the problem of fishermen using the batteries to make ‘sinkers’ when going out to sea to catch fish. “If we can remove the lead acid batteries from our waste pile and also get rid of all the ones that are now strewn in people’s yards, we will have made a mighty big step in tackling the problem of lead poisoning,” he said.
In the meantime, Professor Lalor is appealing for the removal of all lead from children’s environment. “Lead is perhaps the largest heavy metal problem in the environment and parents need to be aware of this and make sure, for example, that there is no lead in the paint used in their homes and in the toys purchased for children,” he said.
The sensitivity of children to lead is particularly high from the foetus until age six. It was during this stage, Professor Lalor explained, that the brain developed rapidly and “connections were made in the nervous system that were necessary for children to develop to their full potential”.
Therefore, if children at this stage of development, for example, ate dirt, which contained lead, the development process would be derailed, thereby diminishing their future.
“What happens to children is that their intelligence is diminished and attention span is lessened and they tend to be hyperactive and unruly. These are your first symptoms. As time goes on, the damage is irreversible and they end up less educated,” he pointed out.
“This continues in teenage and older years to the source of other things that must worry any community -excessive numbers of teenage pregnancies, crime, higher murder rates and all types of this sort of activities – which has been correlated in fact, mainly in the USA, with the very extensive use of lead in gasoline,” Professor Lalor argued.
He stressed that the intelligence of Jamaicans was the one resource that had to be depended on to make a difference in the fortunes of the country.
“Fool fool cannot make it in today’s world. Let us make sure that our children are not fool fool,” the Professor pleaded.
Lead poisoning has been known for a long time in Jamaica, the first known case being among members of the British regiment in the 1760s, who had a thing called a ‘dry bellyache’, which they got by drinking rum that had been stored in lead flasks, a common practice at the time.
More recently in 1995, there were over 40 cases of lead poisoning detected at Kintyre Basic School in Kingston. ICENS at the time cleaned the community and sought to educate residents about the dangers.