More than 70 sites near the capital city have high to alarming levels of lead in the environment, which may cause intellectual disability in children, stillbirth, miscarriages and a rise in antisocial behaviours.
Not only Dhaka, six other districts -- Gazipur, Tangail, Mymensingh, Khulna, Bogra and Magura -- have also been identified as lead hotspots by the Directorate General of Health Services.
To battle against this rampant lead exposure, the government and development organisations have to work together creating a national inventory of sources of lead pollution and preparing a time-bound action-plan, said speakers at a virtual workshop organised by Pure Earth Bangladesh with support from the Department of Environment (DoE), USAID, OAK Foundation and Swiss Agency for Development and Corporation.
Lead poisoning in Bangladesh has been impairing all national development from child and maternity health to attaining climate resilience.
While informal recycling of lead acid batteries and the usage of lead paint are commonly known sources of lead poisoning, a study conducted by Bangladesh Agricultural University found lead along with other heavy metals in cereals, meat, fish, spices, vegetables and fruit.
Contamination of soil and water might have led to the presence of lead in the food chain, which threatens intellectual and economic growth of the country.
People also get exposed to lead through medical waste, e-waste, lead dust and pharmaceutical waste.
The population have an average of 6.83 micrograms per deciliter of lead in their bloodstreams, as estimated by Unicef, whereas the permissible limit set by the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is below 5 μg/dL.
Every 1 µg/dL of extra lead in a child's blood causes a decline in IQ by 0.25 points and a decrease in economic productivity by 2.4%.
Many organisations, such as United Nations Environment Program, Unicef and International Lead Association, the University of Dhaka and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) have been working on the issues tied to lead exposure, apart from the government.
But there is a lack of goals and strategies to make a holistic national approach and interventions are often "intermittent and siloed," said Andrew McCartor, vice president, strategy and partnerships, Pure Earth, while giving a presentation.
He emphasized the need for coordination and communication to build a common understanding of lead challenges, sources, impacts and opportunities.
Dr. Anwar Sadat, of the DGHS, said the government had no system to generate evidence of lead exposure on a regular basis. For example, there is no routine blood lead level testing mechanism in Bangladesh.
He insisted on multi-sectoral networking and collaborative efforts for "synergistic impacts".
The government should formulate a national regulatory framework to control manufacture, import, export, sale, and use of lead-added products, said Shahriar Hossain, of Environment and Social Development Organisation.
He also recommended developing and enforcing environmental, health and safety standards for manufacturing and recycling of lead acid batteries.
Ahmed Shamim Al Razi, additional secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, who attended the event as the chief guest, said Covid and lead pollution were silent killers.
"The Department of Environment will take the lead in a joint, multi-stakeholder approach to eradicating lead pollution," he said.