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Remediating Lead-Contaminated Sites Polluted by Informal Lead Smelters

Even though leaded gasoline has been banned in most countries, populations in low- and middle-income countries are still exposed to high levels of lead from other sources. Data published in 2019 by International Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates that lead might have been a causal factor in more than 1 000 000 deaths every year globally. This figure is greater than deaths due to malaria and AIDS. Countries in Southeast and Eastern Asia and the Pacific regions have suffered the most in terms of the Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY) per 100 000 people due to lead contamination. The International Lead Association has shown that per capita use of lead is rising and 80% or more is consumed by the leadacid battery industry. Cars, scooters and e-rickshaws all use this battery chemistry and the numbers of these vehicles have been increasing globally year on year. Many renewable energy systems, such as solar and wind, also employ leadacid batteries as the energy storage media. Unfortunately, the challenge to be ‘Green’ has, in certain instances, left societies with a large percentage of used leadacid batteries (ULABs) that are recycled in an environmentally unsound manner, e.g., Indonesia 70% of ULABs are recycled by the informal sector and in India 50% informally. The presentation will explain how Pure Earth has initiated lead risk reduction projects through communication and coordination with national governments and by partnering local institutions. Typically, the projects will comprise; (i) an assessment of contaminated locations; (ii) an assessment of lead contamination in soil and levels of lead in children’s blood; (iii) a community education programme that addresses lead poisoning risks and mitigating measures to protect children; (iv) a soil-capping programme to prevent exposures to lead dust from contaminated sites; (v) a home and cleaning programme to remove lead dust from people’s homes. While remediation is necessary to remove the risk of lead exposure to human health, challenges remain to stop lead contamination at source. Thus, the establishment of the environmentally sound management of ULAB recycling becomes crucial in the development of a platform whereby the informal sector can be formalized with technical assistance to comply with environmental standards and operate in designated areas, or to encourage informal players to collect ULABs but not recycle them.

Budi Susilorini Slamet

Indonesia Country Director, Pure Earth/Blacksmith Institute

Budi Susilorini has a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree in International Business and Marketing. Currently, she leads the Indonesia Office of Pure Earth/Blacksmith Institute where one of her flagship programmes concerns mitigation of the lead contamination from recycling used leadacid batteries and lead paint. This has involved her serving as a resource person concerning contaminated sites both in Indonesia and internationally. Recently, Budi co-founded Women in Mining and Energy (WiME) – a working group that advocates gender equality in these two sectors.