Monday, 26 May 2008

Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad to get lead maps


May 26, 2008
By Syed Akbar
With lead poisoning threatening people in big cities, a group of scientists in Bangalore has decided to develop specialised lead maps for Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore to enable citizens know which areas are affected by lead.
The lead maps will tell people the landscapes and water bodies they should avoid if they want to keep themselves in good health. Once lead maps are developed for these cities, the project will be extended gradually to all districts. Specialised lead maps have become necessary for a country like India where people do not know much about the ill-effects of lead, which is present in most of the items people use in their daily life. Even a simple fancy item like Kajal/Surma (khol) is loaded with lead.
The maps will have “dangerous spots” highlighting the areas where lead contamination is considerable. “We are planning to create such maps for all the districts in the country. The lead maps will also inform citizens about the precautionary measures they should take whenever they happen to visit such areas,” says Bangalore-based Dr Venkatesh Thuppil, who is recognised as the “lead man of India”, for his pioneering research in the field.
The National Referral Centre for Lead Poisoning in India, Bangalore, of which Dr Venkatesh is the director, has taken up lead poisoning as a major health concern. Because of the untiring efforts supported by research studies by the Centre, the Government of India introduced the concept of lead-free petrol eight years ago.
Dr Venkatesh told this correspondent that they thought of lead maps after they came across several people with cases of lead poisoning. “We know that people are visiting us with cases related to lead poisoning. We then thought of identifying the areas which contribute to the problem. This took us to the proposal of creating lead maps for important cities,” he points out.
The national centre took up monitoring of air, water and soil in Bangalore as a pilot study. The scientists also studied the levels of lead in human blood to understand the gravity of the situation. “In our studies it came to our notice that people with high levels of lead in their blood were from areas where the concentration of lead in environment was high. The areas near battery repair units were the worst hit. The lead levels in blood samples of children from the vicinity were as high as 75 micrograms per decilitre as against the universally permissible limit of 10 micrograms per deciliter,” he said.
Lead maps for specific areas are important for they will not only tell people about the concentration levels of lead in a given locality, but also prevent lead-related health problems including retarded growth in children due to damage to the central nervous system.
Presently, the scientists of the national referral centre are busy collecting data from a number of places in Karnataka, besides Chennai and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh.
For accurate results, the scientists want to take lead concentration levels in a given locality during May-June, July-Oct and Nov-Dec, so that they could have exact information on the lead concentration just before the start of rainy season, during the rainy season and the months that follow.
The NRCLPI in collaboration with the Harvard University and Boston Medical Centre in USA is currently working on the abatement of lead and other heavy metals in Ayurvedic and other traditional medicines.
“Women have to be very careful about lead poisoning. The cosmetics are the utility products used extensively worldwide for maintaining and improving general appearance of face and other parts of the body. Women are frequently using Kajal/Surma and Kumkum without knowing the health hazards of these utility products,” he says.

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