Rural area children are showing unacceptably high levels of lead concentration in their bodies, despite the fact that there are no obvious sources of lead existing in some of these parishes.
This was revealed by the 'First National Report on Chemicals in the Jamaican Environment (Lead)' prepared by Professor Gerald Lalor and MitkoVutchkov from the International Centre for Environ-mental and Nuclear Sciences (ICENS) at the University of the West Indies, Mona.
The report points out that, from a study of venous samples collected by the Ministry of Health between December 1994 and January 1995 from school children in Clarendon, "42 per cent of these children had levels above the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) intervention value and 19 per cent were at levels that in the U.S. would have required some form of intervention."
Professor Lalor said sufficient effort is not being expended to deal with the issue of lead poisoning in Jamaica.
"Not nearly enough is being done. If enough was being done, then we (ICENS) wouldn't have anything to do," he said. "We have reduced the problem, but there are still plenty children at risk."
Soil-lead concentration at the schools surveyed in these rural areas was low. This demonstrated that children were being exposed to lead from sources other than the soil.
Unlike children in the rural areas, the main source of lead exposure in the urban areas continues to come from automobiles because many of these schools are located in busy commercial districts.
Cars the cause
According to the report: "The greatest contributor to environ-mental lead exposure at this time is the automobile, in which 60 per cent of all the lead produced is used, with lead-acid storage battery contributing some 90 per cent of this amount."
Another major source is mine waste, especially in the Kintyre community.
This increased appearance of lead in children's bodies is of concern because lead can have a severe negative impact on the body. Lead is known to weaken the immune system and the kidneys. However, it is more detrimental to babies and young children.
"Depending on the level of exposure to lead, children may suffer from death, fits, can become fidgety, less compliant and more aggressive and violent."
According to the report, from the children tested, only four parishes in the island - Trelawny, St.James, St. Mary and Portland had children with acceptable levels of lead concentration in their bodies.
The highest concentration found in school children showed up in children in Kingston and St. Andrew.
Meanwhile, the report has identified different measures that could improve the situation.
Among these are awareness campaigns about the risks of chronic lead poisoning, which will be intended for caregivers. The adoption of aggressive preventative and treatment measures, and the implementation of a public health unit, which would oversee everything, is also proposed.
In the end, it is expected "that in the near future, the blood levels of most Jamaican children will meet international norms," stated the report.