The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has dispatched a team of experts to Senegal after the death of a number of children in one of the suburbs of the capital, apparently from exposure to lead batteries.
WHO has deployed a clinical toxicologist, an environmental health specialist and an analytical chemist to Senegal to conduct clinical examinations and further environmental investigations after a request from the Government, the agency said in a statement released today.
Clinical tests so far have revealed “extremely high” blood lead concentrations in the dead children, as well as in their siblings and mothers, most of whom have been involved in the informal recycling of lead batteries in the NGagne Diaw quarter of Thiaroye sur Mer, a suburb of Dakar.
“Many children are showing evidence of neurological damage,” WHO said in the statement. “Environmental investigations have found very high concentrations of lead, both outside and inside peoples’ homes. These have been mapped to an area inhabited by approximately 950 people, who are continuously exposed through ingestion and inhalation of lead-contaminated dust.”
The Geneva-based agency said it had advised Senegalese authorities to take urgent action to terminate exposure of the affected population to lead, and to provide chelation (the administration of agents to remove heavy metals) and other forms of therapy to children with high blood lead concentrations.
“Chelation therapy in children who continue to be exposed to lead is ineffective and may exacerbate toxicity. Plans are in hand to hospitalize the worst-affected cases, but they will then need to be able to return to a lead-free environment. WHO has provided chelating agents, and the clinical toxicologist has started training local medical staff.”
The thorough decontamination of the affected area, including the insides of homes, must be a priority, WHO added, calling for international financial support to help with the environmental and health response.