Our Story: Solutions For Lead and Mercury

The nonprofit Pure Earth, which is dedicated to reducing public health risks from toxic pollution in low- and middle-income countries, serves as Secretariat to the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution.

Since 1999, Pure Earth has conducted more than 90 projects around the world to remediate contaminated sites and reduce public exposures to chemicals and heavy metals. Many of Pure Earth’s projects are designed to identify, assess and reduce public and occupational exposures to lead and mercury contamination.

Pure Earth has conducted more than 1,000 field assessments of sites contaminated with lead, and more than 500 field assessments of sites contaminated with mercury.

Below are some examples of proven strategies to address lead and mercury contamination.

Global Lead Program

Today, public exposures to lead come primarily from the informal production and recycling of used lead-aid batteries (including motorbike, car and truck batteries); lead in paint, dyes, cookware and other household products; and lead contamination in food.

Pure Earth’s approach includes:

  • Rapid Environmental And Health Risk Assessments
  • Site Prioritization And Project Selection
  • Detailed Environmental And Health Risk Assessments
  • Conceptual Site Modeling
  • Alternative Remediation Analysis
  • Remediation

Download our Global Lead Program guide to see strategies and more project examples.

Examples Of Lead Remediation

Kabwe, Zambia (2014-present)

In May of 2017, the cover story of the newspaper The Guardian labeled the city of Kabwe, Zambia, “The World’s Most Toxic Town.” Kabwe is the second largest city in Zambia, with a population of more than 200,000 people. For more than 90 years, lead mining and smelting in Kabwe created extraordinary pollution in both industrial and residential areas. Today, concentrations of lead remain high and pose severe health risks to local children.

In 2014, Pure Earth conducted a comprehensive environmental assessment in Kabwe to understand where the lead hotspots were located within the community and to identify relevant exposure pathways. Based on that assessment, Pure Earth developed a plan to conduct targeted cleanup and risk-reduction activities, including blood-lead level testing and remediation of high-risk areas, starting with the most severely contaminated neighborhoods.

Since then, Pure Earth and its local partners have remediated 80 residential yards contaminated with lead in Kabwe. This project consisted of capping residential soils and public areas, cleaning the interiors of homes, a robust public education and awareness campaign, and project monitoring and evaluation activities. The purpose of these activities was to reduce blood-lead concentrations of local residents and train community members and government employees to replicate and implementing this type of project in the future.

Additional information about the project is available here.

Dong Mai, Vietnam (2013-2014)

Dong Mai Village, Vietnam, was the site of a severe lead poisoning epidemic caused by contamination from decades of recycling of used lead-acid batteries. In 2008, an industrial area was constructed 1 km south of Dong Mai, and most recycling activities were relocated from residential areas to the industrial estate. However, because lead is very immobile in the environment, surface lead levels in residential areas of central Dong Mai remained dangerously elevated from past recycling activities. In 2013 and 2014, Pure Earth and its partners capped contaminated soil at 39 residential properties and public spaces.

After the remediation activities were complete, Pure Earth conducted environmental sampling in all of the remediated yards and found lead levels at or below 50 ppm in all yards (8x below the U.S. EPA standard for residential soil). In addition to environmental sampling, blood-lead levels were collected and analyzed from a total of 263 children before and after the project. Blood-lead levels in children age 0-5 decreased by an average of 72%, from a geometric mean of 39 μg/dL to 11 μg/dL.

Additional information about the project is available here.

Global Mercury Program

Much of the mercury released into the environment is the result of small-scale and artisanal gold mining (ASGM).

Mercury used in the gold separation process (known as “amalgamation”) results in the discharge of an estimated 1,000 tons of mercury annually, representing about 30% of the world’s anthropogenic mercury releases according to United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Once mercury pollution reaches waterways, it is transform into methylmercury—one of the most toxic organic compounds and a powerful neurotoxin. According to UNIDO, as much as 95 percent of all mercury used in ASGM mining is released into the environment.

Pure Earth’s approach includes:

  • Rapid Environmental And Health Risk Assessments
  • Site Prioritization And Project Selection
  • Detailed Environmental And Health Risk Assessments
  • Conceptual Site Modeling
  • Alternative Remediation Analysis
  • Remediation and Risk Reduction Strategies

Download our Global Mercury Program guide to see strategies and more project examples.

Examples of Mercury Remediation 

Peru

Pure Earth is working to strengthen the capacity of the Government to address mercury pollution from artisanal gold mining activities. The project includes assessing sites for contamination and degradation, and developing community-driven remediation plans and strategies for alternative livelihoods and mercury-free ASGM practices.

Mongolia

Over the last 20 years, Mongolia has experienced a surge in the number of people engaging in the practice of small-scale and artisanal gold mining (ASGM). Since 1990, the number of miners has increased from zero to an estimated 100,000, and currently represents 20% of the rural workforce.

Pure Earth has been working to educate artisanal gold miners in several regions of Mongolia about the dangers of using mercury in the mining process, and to promote switching to the much safer method of mining without the use of mercury.

To date, Pure Earth has trained over 1000 miners in mercury-free gold mining methods, with many more miners on the waiting list.

Partnering to Solve Pollution Problems

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