Researchers: Gazan Children Face Dangerous Levels of Lead

Some children living near pollution sources were found to have such high levels of the toxic substance that they were prescribed medication for lead poisoning

Palestinian children push a wagon with containers of drinkable water to their homes in Gaza City, May 12, 2019.
Hatem Moussa,AP

High concentrations of poisonous lead have been found in the blood of children in the Gaza Strip by researchers working for the Palestinian Authority, a report published this month shows. The levels pose a serious health risk to the children and may also affect their development.

The lead comes from workshops and factories located near residential areas that make use of the poisonous substance. The researchers’ findings were based on blood samples taken from 1,700 children at a number of locations around Gaza. They were published this month in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology. The research team was headed by Jamal Safi of the Environmental Protection and Research Institute in Gaza, who was joined by researchers from Al-Azhar University and the Islamic University of Gaza.

>> Collapsing environmental state of Gaza poses threat to Israel's national security, report warns 

Lead exposure is considered a health risk even at low concentrations, particularly in children. Lead can damage the nervous, reproductive and digestive systems. At acute levels, it can cause muscle pain, nausea and kidney damage. Apart from leaded gasoline, a variety of industrial activities are the major source of lead exposure, including battery manufacturing and the metal produced from the recycling of electronic waste.

Until recently, a concentration of less than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood was considered safe, but new research demonstrates that its presence even at lower levels can affect one’s health.

In the study conducted in Gaza, blood samples were taken from the children’s fingers. About a quarter of the children live next to installations that were known to emit lead. The others live 50 to 100 meters (165 to 330 feet) from these facilities. The average lead levels in the blood averaged 10.4 micrograms per deciliter. By comparison, a study nearly two decades ago in Israel found average levels of about a third of that amount.

Among Gazan children living next to lead-producing facilities, 95 percent of them had levels exceeding 10 micrograms, while only 9.3 percent of those children who lived further away were found to have such high levels. The findings demonstrate the severity of exposure among children living adjacent to pollution sources. Some of them were found to have such high levels that they were prescribed medication for lead poisoning.

The authors of the study noted that their findings demonstrate the great extent to which exposure to lead poses a significant health risk in Gaza. There has been a substantial increase in the number of battery manufacturing and recycling facilities in Gaza where lead is present in recent years, they said.

One reason for this development is the chronic shortage of electricity from the power grid in Gaza, which has boosted demand for batteries. About half of the parents of children exposed to lead are employed at businesses that make use of lead, the study’s authors noted. This may boost the children’s exposure because the parents come home with dust and residue on their clothing containing lead.

The authors have called for immediate implementation of a plan to regulate businesses to reduce pollution and to lower the health risks to which children in Gaza are exposed. Many businesses in Gaza currently operate without a license in the heart of residential areas.