Ancient City’s Lead Poisoning Problem – 40,000 Preschoolers At Risk

This week’s blog post is from Andrew McCartor, Blacksmith’s regional program director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia:

Blacksmith was recently approached for help to raise awareness about the massive toxic pollution caused by an active lead smelter in the ancient city of Shymkent (Chimkent) in Southern Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union.

A volunteer, Jeff Temple, working with an NGO that was planning the construction of a large children’s playground in the city, discovered that soil at the site contained 2,000 parts per million (ppm) of toxic lead (the U.S. standard is 400 ppm of lead in bare soil in children’s play areas). Some reports estimate that 40,000 preschool children are at risk from lead poisoning in Shymkent.

Unfortunately, this massive problem is not a new one. In fact, a lot of data has been collected over the past 10 years regarding toxic levels in the city. Blacksmith has also been working in the region.  In 2008, we reached out to teachers and staff at 22 schools and 12 kindergartens about the health hazards of lead. We also distributed brochures and posters to schools and medical institutions to help spread the word. Currently, we are working on securing funding for a project to train environmental professionals in Shymkent on lead remediation. (Read about a similar Blacksmith project in Russia removing lead from children’s playgrounds and schools).

While this problem has been known for at least a decade, it is still waiting to be discovered by many others.  As more concerned global citizens find out about it, change is bound to happen, especially if we all persist and work together. The children of Shymkent are waiting.

To learn more, here is a link to an article, A Poisonous Legacy, written by Jeff for The Chemical Engineer.

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