The Hong Kong Paediatric Foundation, Hong Kong
Lead is a metal that exists naturally in the earth's crust and is practically everywhere in our environment. It can enter into our bodies from many sources. Lead in water is only one of the identified environmental hazards. There are other sources of lead contaminations from soil, air, food, mining, defective glazes, leaded gasoline and paint compromising the health of our children and the general population. Lead exposure poses significant health risks to children especially to those young aged ones with rapid brain development.
The symptoms of lead poisoning are non-specific making diagnosis and early detection difficult. Children exposed to lead can be asymptomatic and subclinical damages to the central nervous system are the most common effects. The incident of lead contaminated water in Hong Kong in 2015 had alarmed us on the safety issue in our environment and the urgent need for the government to review existing policies specific to children’s health.
There is no safe blood lead level (BLL) for children because even low BLL can cause irreversible cognitive dysfunction and permanent neurological impairments. The current internationally adopted reference of BLL of 5μg/dL in children is a statistical reference only and not an absolute safety level. Interventions or chelation therapy cannot reverse the neurological or cognitive damages. The dose-response of cognitive damage from lead exposure is more drastic in younger age and at low BLL but the effect is equally harmful to children of all age groups. The damaging effects can be delayed and become apparent in years to come.
Government should make serious environmental evaluation to identify the holistic picture of environmental hazards that may impinge tremendous health costs and negative productivity on the general population. A Comprehensive Environmental Health Policy including local surveillance and research is mandatory to combat the problem long term and strategically. A Child Health Policy for Hong Kong and a Children’s Commission are the ultimate answer to effective and comprehensive management of any upcoming child health crisis.
All healthcare professionals, particularly those in paediatrics and child health field, have puissant roles to play in educating the public on environmental hazards for children and preventive measures to take. We shall work together with other child health professionals to support the government to ensure a lead free and safe environment for our children to grow and to live.
Disclaimer: The Views and opinions expressed in the articles are of the authors and not of the journal.
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