The pediatric burden of disease from lead exposure at toxic waste sites in low and middle income countries

Kevin Chatham-Stephens, Jack Caravanos, Bret Ericson, Philip Landrigan, Richard Fuller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The impact of lead from toxic waste sites on children in low and middle income countries has not been calculated due to a lack of exposure data. We sought to calculate this impact in Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). Materials and methods: Using an Integrated Exposure Uptake Biokinetic (IEUBK) model, we converted soil and drinking water lead levels from sites in the Blacksmith Institute[U+05F3]s Toxic Sites Identification Program (TSIP) into mean blood lead levels (BLLs). We then calculated the incidence of mild mental retardation (MMR) and DALYs resulting from these BLLs. Results: The TSIP included 200 sites in 31 countries with soil (n=132) or drinking water (n=68) lead levels, representing 779,989 children younger than 4 years of age potentially exposed to lead. Environmental lead levels produced a range of BLLs from 1.56 to 104.71. μg/dL. These BLLs equated to an estimated loss of 5.41-8.23 IQ points, resulting in an incidence of MMR of 6.03 per 1000 population and 76.1 DALYs per 1000 population. Discussion: Soil and water lead levels at toxic waste sites predict BLLs that lower the intelligence quotient (IQ), with the resulting MMR potentially limiting individual- and country-level development. The preventable burden of disease produced by these sites highlights the need for toxic waste sites to be systematically identified, evaluated, and remediated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-383
Number of pages5
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Blood lead level
  • Children
  • Disability adjusted life year
  • Low and middle income country
  • Toxic waste site

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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