As The Earth Communications Office says:

As ECO extends its reach into Latin America, we have discovered that the environmental problems that exist in these countries are similar to those in the United States, but can often be more severe. As our contacts grew to include several environmental groups throughout Latin America we discovered that these countries are still dealing with toxins that are banned or strictly regulated in the United States. ECO Latin America can only succeed if we are aware of the issues that these countries face on a day to day basis. Professor Andrei N. Tchernitchin from the University of Chile has contributed the following article, which highlights some of the environmental and health problems, specifically those associated with lead pollution, that South American countries are still struggling to eradicate.

The University of Chile has been studying the effects of exposure to environmental contaminants, and their research has found that exposure to certain elements can manifest themselves many years later as cancer, infertility, nerve damage, respiratory diseases, arthritis, and a depressed immune system. Lead is one of the most recognized of these environmental pollutants, and produces severe effects in people exposed to it. Some prominent figures in history who suffered from exposure to lead include the governing class of the Roman Empire, Beethoven, and Andrew Jackson.

The effects of exposure to high levels of lead are infrequent, but can lead to severe organ damage and, ultimately, to death. Prolonged exposure to lower levels of lead can initially go unnoticed only to be detected later in life when patients exhibit encephalitis. Prolonged exposure to lower levels of lead can cause conditions such as arterial hypertension, renal damage, anemia, infertility and affect the nervous system. Other effects of exposure to lead can manifest themselves as neurological changes and a higher probability towards drug abuse.

Several studies show that children who have been exposed to lead during the final stages of fetal development will experience irreversible damage. In light of this fact, it is important to consider that pregnant women and women of a fertile age who have been accumulating lead in their bones will transmit lead to the fetus. After child birth, lead can also be transmitted to the child through breastfeeding. In Latin America, 15 million children are at risk of losing four or more IQ points because of high lead emissions and, even in the United States where lead has been removed from most products, lead poisoning continues to be a substantial problem for children.

Exposure to lead can cause reduced ability in the nervous system, which results in learning disabilities, lower IQs, attention deficit, failure in school, and reduced motor and visual coordination. There is an overwhelming level of lead found in the blood of people in urban populations in South America. Recent evidence confirms that the level of lead found in human bones is directly correlated with criminal behavior, which may contribute to the increase in crime and violence in large cities that have a high degree of lead pollution. This signifies that part of the increase in violence and delinquency that is affecting numerous Latin American cities can be attributed to a chemical cause.

Lead polluction comes from a variety of sources such as combustion from leaded fuel, lead-glazed clay pottery, paints used in homes, on furniture, and on children's toys. Other sources are canned foods which are consumed after the expiration date, provisions in dented cans, storing food in opened cans, and water that flows through leaded pipes which tend to be found in old buildings. Lead can also be found in vegetables grown in urban areas with a high level of atmospheric pollution or in areas near highways and roads. Contamination in work areas can occur in mining zones, from the manufacture of leaded products, from working with paint and soldering materials, and from leaded gasoline.

The Medical College of Chile contributed to the creation of a standard lead content in domestic paints, similar to those of North American legislation that permits a maximum lead content of 0.06%. According to the report released by the Medical College, the highest content of lead found in commercial paints approaches 10%. These paints are manufactured by Sherwin Williams, a North American company. The same paint, sold in the United States, contains the permitted levels of lead according to North American standards. This demonstrates the necessity to monitor imported products, even if they are well known brands with strict standards in their place of origin. Legislation and international agreements should also be passed that prohibit the sale of toxic products in the country of origin and that could incur lawsuits in response to damages that occur in the affected countries and foreign businesses that have sold a product whose toxicity is known at the time sold.

Considering the damage lead causes, especially the irreversible effects that occur during the early infantile stages or the last fetus stages, it is necessary to take effective measures to eliminate sources of lead contamination. It is possible to foresee that measures taken to reduce the effects of environmental contaminates on human health would create a significant improvement in the overall health of the world. I believe that now is the time to give a major contribution to the health of future generations.

Professor Andrei N. Tchernitchin, University of Chile,
The Earth Communications Office. .