- A team of international medical experts has linked an "unexplained cluster of deaths" in Senegalese children from Thiaroye, a suburb of the capital Dakar, to the lead intoxication caused by contamination from the informal recycling of lead batteries.
Experts under the aegis of the World Health Health Organization (WHO) also discovered that siblings and mothers of the dead children were found to have "extremely high blood lead concentrations" which may "impair neurological development."
The examinations were conducted in Thiaroye's NGagne Diaw after Senegalese authorities sought formal request from the world health body that in turn deployed a team consisting of a clinical toxicologist, an environmental health specialist and analytical chemist.
"Clinical examinations have confirmed continuing high blood lead concentrations in the original group studied, as well as in a randomly-selected group of adults and children who were not involved in lead recycling," WHO experts reported.
"Many children are showing evidence of neurological damage. 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."
WHO advised Senegalese government to take urgent action to "terminate exposure of the affected population to lead, and to provide chelation and other therapy to children with high blood lead concentrations." It said chelation therapy in children may become ineffective and exacerbate toxicity if they continue to be exposed to lead.
"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 said. The body has already provided chelating agents, and the clinical toxicologist is also in action to train local medical staff.
It however said further "systematic investigation" of the population of NGagne Diaw is needed as well as the administration of appropriate treatment. "Thorough decontamination of the affected area of NGagne Diaw, including the insides of homes, is a high priority."
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