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Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Jun;109(6):563-6.

Blood lead levels of primary school children in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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Epidemic Intelligence Service, Epidemiology Program Office, National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


Dhaka, Bangladesh, has one of the highest air lead levels in the world. In February 2000, we evaluated children at five primary schools in Dhaka to determine blood lead (BPb) levels, sources of environmental exposure, and potential risk factors for lead poisoning. Selected schools represented a range of geographic and socioeconomic strata. A total of 779 students 4-12 years of age participated. The mean BPb level was 15.0 microg/dL (range 4.2-63.1 microg/dL). Most students (87.4%) had BPb levels above the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's level of concern (10 microg/dL). Elevated BPb levels correlated with soil eating [odds ratio (OR) = 3.31; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.30-8.39], low parental education (OR = 2.72; 95% CI, 1.97-3.75), living close to major roads (OR = 2.30; 95% CI, 1.23-4.29), and increasing age (OR = 1.11; 95% CI, 1.06-1.16). BPb levels measured were similar to those in other countries that use leaded gasoline. No other potential sources of lead exposure were consistently identified. Combustion of leaded gasoline is the main source of lead exposure in Dhaka, resulting in ubiquitous contamination of the environment. The increase in BPb levels with age, a finding contrary to observations in the United States and Australia, may be related to increased outdoor activities. The Bangladeshi government recently announced a plan to eliminate leaded gasoline. Baseline BPb surveys are critical to develop and evaluate intervention policies. Strategies to reduce BPb levels need to address variations in socioeconomic status, construction type and location of housing, and levels of hygiene.

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