In Vietnam, reducing harm of battery recycling

UW team discovers how lead spreads through community, creates awareness of preventive measures.

By Elizabeth Sharpe and Kathy Hall  |  HSNewsBeat  |  Updated 9:15 AM, 04.14.2014

Posted in: Research

  • Workers in a Vietnam battery-recycling factory are exposed to lead's hazards, which are then spread more widely through the community. Deborah Havens
University of Washington research is helping clean up lead contamination in a village near Hanoi, Vietnam, where children suffer from high levels of exposure.

Lead can cause a variety of health problems and detrimentally affect a child’s developing brain.
Vietnam battery-school
Gerry Croteau
Vietnamese collaborator Nguyên Khăc Hoài Nam helps test gardens, house dust and schools using an XRF analyzer.
Vietnamese collaborator Nguyên Khăc Hoài Nam helps test gardens, house dust and schools using an XRF analyzer.
Many Vietnam communities make money by recycling lead from used car batteries. While the extra income helps provide daily essentials, widespread lead contamination is an unintended consequence. 

School of Public Health researchers, in collaboration with the Vietnamese National Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health, have been studying the affected children and their environment. They are advising on cleanup of the contamination by the Blacksmith Institute, an international nonprofit dedicated to solving pollution problems. 

William Daniell and Catherine Karr, associate professors in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, led the project team.

Researchers identified the high blood lead levels in children and evaluated exposure routes, then helped develop a remediation plan. Now they are developing an education and training program and a health assessment, said Gerry Croteau, a research industrial hygienist in the department.

He helped test surface lead levels, using an XRF elemental analyzer, which he described as a futuristic device.
Vietnam battery-brochure
Educational brochure on reducing lead exposure from battery recycling (click to enlarge)
Educational brochure on reducing lead exposure from battery recycling
The XRF can complete an elemental scan in 30 seconds. In two days, the team collected 225 measurements in nine homes and a school. Such an effort using conventional methods would have taken days, with the results not available for a month. The instantaneous measurements allowed the team to consider possible exposure routes and better target monitoring efforts.

Ryan Wallace and Deborah Havens worked on the projects in Vietnam while they were students in UW's Occupational & Environmental Medicine program. As part of his thesis research testing children’s blood lead levels, Wallace counseled the children, their parents and governmental officials about how lead toxicity can affect children and how lead exposures can be managed. 

Education is vital, he said, because childhood lead exposure is entirely preventable.

The project is funded by the Rohm & Haas Professorship in Public Health Sciences, sponsored by the Rohm & Haas Co. of Philadelphia, and by the Fogarty Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
Tagged with: lead poisoning, recycling, Vietnam, environment, School of Public Health
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