Pollutant: Lead

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1. Region:
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Kosovo Mitrovica: Legacy Lead Smelter

Kosovska Mitrovica is considered one of the most polluted areas in Kosovo and is home to the Zvecan smelter, a part of the Trepca mining complex, made up of 40 mines that produce gold, silver, lead, zinc and cadmium. During its operation, lead levels in the city’s air and water reached up to 200 times more than World Health Organization guidelines. NATO peacekeepers closed the giant Zvecan lead smelter in August 2000 but the contamination left behind still poses a serious threat to the local environment and people’s health.

2. Region: Africa

Country: Zambia

Kabwe Lead Mines

Kabwe, the second largest city in Zambia with a population of 300,000, is located about 130km north of the nation's capital, Lusaka. It is one of six towns situated around the Copperbelt, once Zambia's thriving industrial base. In 1902, rich deposits of potentially dangerous lead were discovered in the mine and smelter located in the center of the town. Ore veins with lead concentrations as high as 20 percent have been mined deep into the earth and a smelting operation was set up to process the ore. Mining and smelting operations were running almost continuously up until 1994 without the government addressing the potential danger of lead. The mine and smelter, owned by the now privatized Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines, is no longer operating but has left a city with poison and toxicity from hazardous concentrations of lead in the soil and water.

During the operation there were no pollution laws regulating emissions from the mine and smelter plant. In turn, air, soil, and vegetation were all subjected to contamination, and ultimately, over some decades, millions of human lives were also affected. Some recent findings reveal the extent to which lead--one of the most potent neurotoxins known to man--has effected the health of Kabwe citizens. In the U.S., normal blood levels of lead are less than 10 ug/dL (micrograms per deciliter). Symptoms of acute poisoning occur at blood levels of 20 and above, resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, and leading to muscle spasms and kidney damage. Levels of over ten are considered unhealthy and levels in excess of 120 can often lead to death. In Kabwe, blood concentrations of 300 ug/dL have been recorded in children and records show average blood levels of children range between 60 and 120 ug/dL.

Children that play in the soil and young men that scavenge the mines for scraps of metal are most susceptible to lead produced by the mine and smelter. A small waterway runs from the mine to the center of town and had been used to carry waste from the once active smelter. For years there were no restrictions on the waterway, and in some instances local children use it for bathing. In addition to water exposure, workers are frequently exposed to lead by inhaling the dust that accumulated in their own backyards.

3. Region: Africa

Country: Mozambique

Leaded Gas Phase Out Task Force

Mozambique, like many other developing countries, uses leaded gasoline. While the adverse health effects of lead have been well-documented and many of the world's countries have either completely phased out use of leaded gasoline or lowered lead concentrations, Africa remains as a bastion of leaded gasoline use. The primary lead exposure pathway is via airborne lead and lead in dust and soil. In congested urban areas vehicle exhaust from leaded gasoline accounts for some 90 percent of airborne lead pollution.

4. Region: Africa

Country: Guinea

Leaded Gas Phase Out Task Force

Guinea, on the Atlantic coast of Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Conakry, the capital, is a bustling, colorful and vibrant city of about 2 million struggling with the side effect of urbanization—pollution.
The lack of sewage and water treatment directly impacts human health in the city. Only a fraction of households, primarily in the wealthiest neighborhoods, have reliable access to running water at all, while well water is contaminated by bacteria and parasites. The city has no wastewater treatment facilities, and only 8% of households are connected to a piped municipal sewage system. The overwhelming majority of households have only basic latrines; in better homes, the floor is tiled and the hole is deep. As a result, diseases such as diarrhea, hepatitis A, poliomyelitis, typhoid, cholera, and meningitis run rampant.

Major Environmental Concerns

  • Air Pollution - From leaded gasoline, automobile exhaust, traffic jams and old cars. Also from fuel sources: charcoal, plastic bags and tires used to cook, and the burning of garbage. Leads to elevated cases of respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
  • Water pollution - Lack of sanitation services pollutes coastal marine ecosystem, contaminates food supply , increases instance of waterborne diseases (malaria, diarrhea, hepatitis A, poliomyelitis, typhoid, skin diseases, cholera, meningitis), and renders water undrinkable.
  • Lack of Infrastructure and Public Services - Residential and commercial garbage collection is just beginning to be put into place. No waste water treatment plant exists, although plans are afoot to install a sewage treatment facility in the western part of town. Human waste, when collected, is disposed of directly into the ocean or local dump.

  • 5. Region: Africa

    Country: Tanzania

    Leaded Gasoline Phase-Out, Tanzania

    The government of Tanzania has developed a leaded gas phase-out action plan and it was discussed at a national stakeholders' meeting in Dar es Salaam in September, 2003. The country's planned phase-out of leaded gasoline is part of a larger initiative to ban the use of leaded gasoline in Sub Saharan Africa, as stated in the Dakar Declaration of 2001.

    6. Region: Africa

    Country: Zambia

    Kabwe Environmental Rehabilitation Foundation

    For almost a century, Kabwe, a city of 300,000 in Zambia, has been highly contaminated with lead from a government-owned lead mine and smelter, Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM). Although the mine has been closed since 1994, residents continue to get sick and die from the contamination due to a lack of cleanup efforts on the part of the company and the government.

    Lead is one of the most potent neurotoxins known to humans. When breathed in, lead directly attacks the central nervous system. It is particularly damaging to infants and children, and can cross the mother's placenta, putting unborn and nursing infants at risk. Yet, remarkably, the citizens of Kabwe have until recently been completely unaware that they are living in one of the most poisoned cities on earth. Blacksmith founded a local NGO, Kabwe Environmental and Rehabilitation Foundation (KERF), that has been bringing educational services to the community on how to limit exposure to lead, and nursing support for those who are ill.

    7. Region: Africa

    Country: Senegal


    In 1998, an international framework was established to improve air quality in Sub-Saharan Africa. The first regional conference was organized by the World Bank on June 26th, 2001 in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss the issue of leaded gasoline as a major source of emissions in traffic-heavy towns and cities in developing countries. The harmful health effects of lead exposure in children, such as brain and nervous system damage, prompted the "Dakar Declaration." This was a joint effort by the World Health Organization and 25 sub-Saharan countries, the oil industry, civil companies, and other international agencies to eliminate leaded gasoline by December 31, 2005.

    As part of this project, Blacksmith Institute helped the state Environmental Department and AfricaClean (a local air quality monitoring group) to design and implement a monitoring routine for vehicle emissions. The result was to improve emissions standards and overall air quality.

    8. Region: Africa

    Country: Senegal

    Informal Lead Battery Recycling in Thiayore Sur Mer Senegal

    Blacksmith was called to Senegal after the March 2008 deaths of 18 children under the age of five in the Dakar neighborhood of Thiaroye-Sur-Mer. The University Hospital believed that the children all died from acute lead poisoning due to constant exposure to lead dust in the air, soil and water. At the time, the main economic activity in the town was the informal recycling of used lead-acid car batteries, which involved the haphazard melting of car batteries to reclaim the scrap lead inside. Often done in open-air settings, the unregulated recycling exposed some 40,000 people to lead dust.

    After the deaths in Senegal, the government worked quickly to shut down these battery-smelting operations. However, the legacy of many years of unregulated lead processing had rendered the entire community exceedingly polluted. In April 2008, the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the University of Dakar Toxicology division conducted blood tests among 41 children of Thiaroye-Sur-Mer - 100% of the children tested presented levels over 10 μg /dl, with the highest average being 158 μg /dl for the one-to-five year age group. According to most international standards, lead levels above 70 μg /dL in children are considered medical emergencies. A visit to the site by Blacksmith Institute staff at the same time revealed large amounts of lead dust present in homes, stores and streets throughout the community. Blacksmith Institute, the University of Dakar's Toxicology department, and Senegalese Ministry of Health and the International Lead Management Center (ILMC) came together to address the problem.

    9. Region: Eastern Europe & Central Asia

    Country: Russia

    Rudnaya River Valley Lead Exposure Mitigation

    The Rudnaya River Valley region has observed a high rate of cancer as well as chronic and acute illnesses due to the use of outdated mining technology and metal smelting. The district capital Dalnegorsk is contaminated with boron, sulfur, and heavy metals including lead, cadmium, and zinc. The second biggest town in the valley is Rudnaya Pristan, which translates into “mining port� and is built around the lead smelter and the seaport, is one of the most lead contaminated sites in Russia. The town has the highest rate of respiratory diseases in the region and other illnesses including neurological damage. Children there continued to have a higher blood lead levels even after the intervention began. For almost a century, lead and zinc ore produced in the local mines is processed at the refining factory in Dalnegorsk. The lead and zinc concentrate were transported in open cars to Rudnaya Pristan for smelting up until 2006. Lead and cadmium, the most potent toxins in the region, damage human health through inhalation of lead dust, playing with contaminated soil, eating produce grown on contaminated lands, and air pollution. These toxins inhibit the functioning and development of the nervous system and are particularly harmful to children, leading to permanent learning and behavior disorders. Common symptoms of lead poisoning include abdominal pain, headache, anemia, irritability, and in severe cases seizures, coma, and death.

    10. Region: Eastern Europe & Central Asia

    Country: Russia

    Gavrilovka Groundwater Pollution

    A once-secret manufacturing center of the Soviet Union's defense industry, Dzerzhinsk (population 300,000) has hosted many chemical factories, including production facilities for Sarin and VX nerve gas. Lead additives for gasoline, mustard gas, munitions, and other highly-polluting products can also claim this city as their birthplace. While many of these factories are now closed, the chemical industry still employs over a quarter of local residents. The groundwater and soil around the city, about 250 miles east of Moscow, remain severely polluted with phenol, arsenic, dioxins, heavy metals, and a host of other toxins. Indeed, a dominant ecological landmark in the area is the “White Sea”, a 100-acre-wide lake of toxic sludge discharged from nearby factories.

    Clearly, Dzerzhinsk faces huge challenges in managing this legacy of toxic wastes. It holds the ignominious title of "The Most Chemically Polluted Town" in the world. Greenpeace claims that the average life expectancy of city residents may have shrunk to a mere 45 years. The city's annual death rate, 17 per 1,000 people, is much higher than Russia's national average of 14 per 1,000. And, according to researchers at the Nizhny Novgorod Research Institute of Hygiene and Occupational Pathology, rates of reproductive health disturbances affecting women and fetuses, as well as rates of respiratory and pulmonary diseases in children, are dangerously high. In study after study, the health impacts of these chemicals continue to dampen enthusiasm and drain resources needed for economic and social recovery in Dzerzhinsk.

    While there are many pollution-related issues that cry out for investment and remediation in the city, water quality is of paramount importance. The Dzerzhinsk Committee of Environmental Control, a local government agency dedicated to finding solutions for pollution-related problems, has highlighted the degree to which the quality of drinking water in some residential areas of the city, damaged by years of discharge of as many as 150 separate toxic chemicals, does not come close to meeting safety standards. Despite this assessment, the city still draws its drinking water from the same aquifers abused by toxic wastes and unused products over many years.

    One area of particular concern is the residential sector of Gavrilovka (population 1,000), about 2 miles away from a former tetraethyl lead production facility. Environmental testing conducted in 2002 by a Russian laboratory identified elevated levels of metals (e.g., lead, arsenic) and toxic organic compounds in the groundwater that serves as the primary source for residents' drinking water. Industrial wastewater discharges and solid waste leaching were identified as primary sources of groundwater contamination.

    11. Region: Eastern Europe & Central Asia

    Country: Romania

    Copsa Mica Industrial Pollution

    Copsa Mica was one of Europe’s most polluted towns in the 1990s and remains the most polluted town in Romania to this day. Two factories Carbosin that produced carbon black and Sometra, a non-ferrous metallurgical smelter were behind this pollution. Carbosin shut down in 1993 but the smelter is still operational.

    12. Region: Latin America & Caribbean

    Country: Peru

    La Oroya Lead Pollution

    Since 1922, adults and children in La Oroya, Peru - a mining town in the Peruvian Andes and the site of a poly-metallic smelter - have been exposed to the toxic emissions and wastes from the plant. Peru's Clean Air Act cites La Oroya in a list of Peruvian towns suffering from critical levels of air pollution, but action to clean up and curtail this pollution. Currently owned by the Missouri-based Doe Run Corporation, the plant has been largely responsible for the dangerously high lead levels found in children's blood. Activities are now underway to curtail emissions and clean up legacy residual contamination. Ninety-nine percent of children living in and around La Oroya have blood lead levels that exceed acceptable limits, according to studies carried out by the Director General of Environmental Health in Peru in 1999. Lead poisoning is known to be particularly harmful to the mental development of children. A survey conducted by the Peruvian Ministry of Health in 1999 revealed blood lead levels among local children to be dangerously high, averaging 33.6 �g/dL for children between the ages of 6 months to ten years, triple the WHO limit of 10 �g/dL. Neurologists at local hospitals state that even newborn children have high blood lead levels, inherited while still in the womb. Sulfur dioxide concentrations also exceed the World Health Organization guidelines. Soil contamination is now being studied and a plan for clean up is in progress. Numerous studies have been carried out to assess the levels and sources of lead and other metals still being deposited in La Oroya. Limited testing has revealed lead, arsenic and cadmium soil contamination throughout the town. A detailed public health program has been implemented at the neighborhood level, focusing on children's health including bi-annual blood testing of all children. This has been operational for several years.

    13. Region: Latin America & Caribbean

    Country: Dominican Republic


    This project is part of the Lead Poisoning and Car Batteries Project. Full project details are available at

    Community education campaigns implemented over a number of years likely resulted in a significant decrease in blood lead levels. However, the most drastic decreases resulted from environmental remediation. Following cleanup, blood lead levels have now likely decreased to acceptable levels. See more details about Haina under SUCCCESS STORIES:

    14. Region: South Asia

    Country: India


    The Coca-Cola bottling plant at Plachimada is located along the Palakkad-Meenakshipuram-Pollchi road, around three kilometers to the north of the Meenkara dam reservoir and a few hundred meters west of the Kambalathara and Vengalakkayam storage reservoirs.

    The bottling plant started production in 1998 on a 42- acre plot in violation of the Kerala Land Utilisation Act, 1967, intended to prevent the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Limited (HCBL) has faced a host of complaints and agitation from local people over water and soil pollution. The issue has been raised in the media with a focus on depletion of water and its contamination. Test results of the well water and the sludge have proved the presence of contamination.

    15. Region: South Asia

    Country: India

    Ratlam Legacy Industrial Pollution

    Ratlam is an important industrial town in Madhya Pradesh with distillery, dye and pharmaceutical industries. Pollution studies conducted in the Ratlam area show that the groundwater in part of Ratlam town and about 12 villages namely Doshigem, Ghatala, Bajankhedi, Jadwasa Kala and Khurd etc., has become red in color due to discharges from Sajjan Chemicals. The groundwater in these areas is also high in salinity. Sajjan Chemicals, Jayant Vitamins, Stellar Drugs, Alcohol Plant and IPCA Laboratory have been blamed for the increased salinity although all the industries except the latter two have shut down. Shutting down the industries has not solved the pollution problem as hazardous wastes lie in the open. In the factory premises of Sajjan Chemicals, three to four tanks filled with effluents remain untreated.

    16. Region: Southeast Asia

    Country: Cambodia

    Technical Guidelines for Air Quality Monitoring

    Cambodia is undergoing rapid development and subsequent population and industrial growth. Air quality is deteriorating as a result of industrial and handicraft processes as well as fossil fuel combustion. As of 2004, air quality monitoring activities were inadequate as there was no established technical guideline. While environmental conditions and human health are being threatened by poor air quality, setting technical monitoring guidelines was of utmost importance. Blacksmith Institute worked with the Cambodia Ministry of Environment's Department of Pollution Control on setting guidelines to help governments derive legally enforceable air quality standards. Moreover, the organizations devised action plans to carry out local control measures and to advise environmental health authorities and professionals.

    Many scientific studies have linked breathing polluted air full of particulate matter to a series of significant health problems, including: aggravated asthma, coughing, painful breathing, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, and premature death. Acceptance and promotion of these guidelines was thus an extremely important step in developing a full air quality monitoring and enforcement system in Cambodia.

    17. Region: Southeast Asia

    Country: Philippines


    Marilao is a small town located in the province of Bulacan, Philippines. The largest lead battery recycler in the country, the Philippine Recyclers Inc (PRI), has a smelting plant here, and a vast cottage industry of unregulated lead recycling has sprung up on the plant's outskirts.

    18. Region: Southeast Asia

    Country: Thailand

    Lower Klity Legacy Lead Mine

    Lower Klity village lies on the west rim of the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi province. The Huai Klity stream flows through the village and eventually drains into the Kwae Yai River in the eastern region of Thailand. A lead mine that operated since the early 80’s was closed seven years ago by Thailand’s Department of Mineral Resources due to pollution concerns. However villagers’ health continues to suffer from the past mining operations.