WHO updates Fact sheet on Lead Poisoning (6 August 2015)

Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its fact sheet on lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning came to the fore when Nestle India was forced to withdraw Maggi Noodles from the Indian market following allegations of excessive lead content. This lead to similar restrictions in some other countries as well, and examination of other brands of noodles.

Key Messages:

Lead is a toxic metal that naturally occurs in the Earth’s crust. It is used in numerous industries, leading to widespread environmental contamination.

Lead exposure occurs through occupational and environmental sources, mainly

  • Inhalation of lead particles
  • Ingestion of lead contaminated dust, water and food

600,000 cases of children with intellectual disabilities from lead poisoning each year

Lead exposure is estimated to be responsible for 143,000 deaths each year

99% of children affected by high lead exposure live in low and middle-income countries

50% of the disease burden from lead occurs in the WHO South-East Asia Region

Young children absorb 4-5 times more ingested lead than adults from a given source.

After lead enters the body, it is distributed to organs like the kidneys, brain, liver and bones.

Continued exposure results in the storage and accumulation of lead in teeth and bones over time.

Lead exposure is harmful for both children and adults.

There is no ‘safe’ level of lead exposure for humans.

Health Consequences of lead poisoning on children:

High levels of exposure– coma, convulsions, death. Survivors of severe lead poisoning may be left with mental retardation and behavioural disorders.

Lower levels of exposure– no obvious symptoms, but affects intelligence (reduced IQ), behavioural changes (decreased attention span and educational achievement; increased antisocial behaviour), anaemia, hypertension, decreased kidney function, toxicity to reproductive organs.

The effects on behaviour and the nervous system are believed to be permanent.

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable


Useful Links:

Link to the updated fact sheet:


Link to a WHO document on lead exposure:


Link to WHO document on childhood lead poisoning:


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