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Blacksmith Intitute Press Release

Blacksmith Institute Leads Effort to End Children's Exposure to Deadly Lead Dust in Senegal

New York, April 27, 2008 -- Environmental action group Blacksmith Institute today announced it will lead a year-long project to protect the health of children in Senegal against exposure to deadly levels of lead dust that result from the informal recycling of car batteries. Project partners include several Senegalese government agencies, the University of Dakar and the World Health Organization.

The project will provide local health education and soil remediation in the Dakar neighborhood of Thiaroye Sur Mer in addition to developing national policies to regulate battery recycling activities. It is a response to the deaths in March 2008 of 18 children under the age of five in Thiaroye from acute lead poisoning due to exposure to lead dust from informal recycling of used lead-acid batteries (ULAB). The government worked quickly to shut down these battery-smelting operations, however, the legacy of many years of unregulated lead processing has rendered the entire community of 40,000 people exceedingly polluted.

"This project represents a very positive outcome for a very tragic situation," said Meredith Block, executive director of Blacksmith Institute. "The government of Senegal has been extremely responsive. This project should serve as a model for the hundreds of communities worldwide whose children's health - and indeed lives - are affected by informal ULAB recycling.

The first priority of the four-pronged project is to protect the health of the children of Thiaroye through immediate treatment and education to mitigate health risks. At the same time, polluted soils will be removed to prevent further contamination to the community. Thirdly, a new policy will be developed and implemented to provide for environmentally sound management of ULAB recycling to prevent future informal economies from surfacing. Last, it will help local residents identify alternative forms of economic activity to replace the lost income from battery recycling.

A Consortium-wide Effort

The 12-month project brings together an international consortium of governmental and non-governmental agencies, each contributing its expertise. Blacksmith Institute's Dakar-based staff will oversee the coordination and implementation of the project and its partners. 

To address health concerns, Senegal's Ministry of Health in conjunction with the University of Dakar's Toxicology Department will work to oversee and implement an educational awareness campaign working with the local village authorities and religious leaders. The World Health Organization (WHO) has committed to treating all children with significantly high levels of lead in their blood.

To address the immediate environmental problem, Senegal's Ministry of Environment will oversee and implement the remediation of soils and the decontamination of the Thiaroye site. In addition, the Ministry of Environment will work with the Geneva-based Secretariat of the Basel Convention on Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal to create and implement policy changes to regulate ULAB processing from collection, transportation, storage and recycling. Senegal's Department of Women's Affairs will aide the community to develop appropriate alternative sources of income to battery melting.

The Dangers of Battery Recycling

In the community of Thiaroye Sur Mer, the main economic activity has involved haphazard melting of ULAB to reclaim the scrap lead inside. Because this activity has been conducted in the informal sector, out in the open air, and largely by the women of the community, the children of Thiaroye are victims of acute lead poisoning.

In April 2008, the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the University of Dakar Toxicology division conducted blood tests among 41 children of Thiaroye. All children tested had blood levels that exceeded WHO limits of 10 æg/dl, with the highest average being 158 æg/dl for the one-to-five year age group. According to most international standards, lead levels above 70 æg/dL in children are considered medical emergencies. A visit to the site by Blacksmith Institute staff at the same time revealed large amounts of lead dust present in homes, stores and streets throughout the community.

About Blacksmith Institute

Blacksmith Institute works around the globe to identify dangerously polluted sites and initiate their clean up, using its Polluted Places methodology to focus efforts on the most productive interventions. For the biggest polluted areas, Blacksmith works with local partners, including environmental authorities, to identify large-scale interventions for potential funding by international agencies. Since 1999 Blacksmith Institute has completed 29 projects in 9 countries and is currently engaged in 35 projects in 15 countries. (Update--As of 2011, Blacksmith has completed over 50 projects and is currently engaged in over 30 projects in 14 countries.)