High levels of lead, arsenic found in common foods
These are the findings of a research study - conducted by the Aga Khan University in collaboration with Japan's Jichi Medical University - that were presented at a seminar "Heavy Metals, Food Safety and Child Development" at AKU, said a statement on Monday.
Lead and arsenic are two chemicals deemed to be of major concern to public health, according to the World Health Organisation's International Programme on Chemical Safety, since both elements have toxic effects that can cause irreversible neurological damage and even trigger a wide range of chronic diseases.
To determine the cause of lead and arsenic exposure, AKU researchers looked at common sources of lead and arsenic exposure including petrol, foods, drinking water, house-dust, respirable dust and soil across urban and rural areas of Pakistan.
In addition, blood samples from pregnant women, newborns and young children were taken to assess their health risk.
Surprisingly, drinking water and surma (kohl) were not the main sources of lead exposure. For pregnant women, foods such as potatoes and boiled rice and for children, food and house-dust were found to be the most important contributors of lead exposure.
Describing the findings of the study, Dr Ambreen Sahito, research coordinator stated that more than 60 per cent of newborns and about 90 per cent of children aged 1-3 years had blood lead levels that exceeded CDC guidelines, with grave lifelong consequences.
Findings of the research are also relevant to Sustainable Development Goal that calls for efforts to reduce deaths and illnesses caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Dr Zafar Fatmi, professor of Community Health Sciences at AKU, revealed that Pakistan's population has a relatively higher exposure to lead than other countries.
However, speakers stressed that the public should not stop eating chicken for fear of arsenic exposure.
Dr Fatmi said: "While more research is needed on this topic, it is important to note that people shouldn't stop eating chicken altogether as it is an important source of protein.
For the public, health risks from arsenic exposure are not only determined by the amount of toxins found in food but also by the rate of consumption and the body mass (height and weight) of the consumer.