Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Tracking a Silent Killer in Rural Bangladesh

Published: Monday, January 06, 2014
Last Updated: Monday, January 06, 2014
Bookmark and Share
An interdisciplinary team of Stanford researchers seek to understand why lead contamination persists in one of the poorest corners of the world, and how to stop its spread.

It's been decades since the U.S. phased out the use of lead in gasoline, paint, pipes and other products because of the metal's insidious health effects. Although lead from previous years' exhaust still persists in soil and dust, Americans have largely rid themselves of the toxin, linked to symptoms ranging from anemia and hearing loss to heart disease and mental retardation. In other parts of the world, however, the specter of lead poisoning still hovers.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers supported by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment's Environmental Venture Projects (EVP) seed-grant program is challenging conventional wisdom about why lead contamination lingers in one of the poorest corners of the world. Their work could lead to more rapid testing for contamination, greater public awareness and decisive regulatory action.

In some areas of Bangladesh, as many as half of the residents have high levels of lead in their blood. "If you had children or pregnant women in the U.S. with these levels, there would be an uproar," said Stephen Luby, a Stanford professor of medicine and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

With his fellow project investigators, Luby is searching for the dangerous metal's pathways to people and ways to disrupt the status quo.

Decades of research
Luby first started thinking about lead in the developing world when he conducted a study in Pakistan during the early 1990s. The results showed high levels of lead in children's blood, likely a result of the country's continued use of leaded fuel.

After Pakistan banned leaded gas, due in part to the study's influence, Luby shifted his focus to nearby Bangladesh. He came across studies showing lead contamination in the land of two rural areas. "That struck me as odd," Luby recalls. There were few roads and almost no vehicles spewing leaded gas exhaust in the areas. Based on the evidence of higher lead levels in farm land compared with levels in nearby homes, Luby speculated that the contamination was coming from an agricultural product, possibly pesticide, and being absorbed by plants.

A similar story played out in the U.S. apple industry during the late 19th century and early 20th century when the use of lead arsenate pesticides contributed to the contamination of thousands of acres and sickened many field workers.

When he floated his hypothesis to other experts in the field, Luby was met with skepticism. Responding to an email from Luby, one wrote that he was "perplexed" by the idea, while another scientist wrote he "would be very surprised" if Luby's theory proved correct. "They thought I was crazy," Luby said. "It was pretty direct and troubling because it came from people who have been in Bangladesh a long time."

Despite the doubts, Luby pushed on. With colleagues, he collected hundreds of blood samples from residents of agricultural areas. Luby didn't have the funding, however, to test the samples for lead, carry out surveys and do other related work. "Then EVP came along," Luby said. With the program's support, Luby and his fellow project investigators, Assistant Professor of Economics Pascaline Dupas and Woods senior fellows Scott Fendorf (Earth sciences) and Roz Naylor (Earth sciences, FSI), plan to look for lead in blood and soil samples, examine evidence of past contamination and develop ways to test pesticides for the dangerous metal.

Interdisciplinary team of researchers
Naylor's interest in the project was driven by a desire to learn more about Bangladesh's agriculture sector, and how the use of lead-based pesticides potentially acts as a barrier to escaping poverty. "How can a country hope to alleviate rural poverty if people in those areas are cognitively impaired (from lead poisoning)?" Naylor said.

Fendorf, a soil scientist, will focus on how to find lead in soils and how to analyze it. Naylor, an agricultural economist and director of the Center for Food Security and the Environment, will examine market mechanisms for use and overuse of pesticides, among other analyses. Dupas, a developmental economist and center fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy

 Research, will explore behaviors around pesticide use and how to change them. "They will frame issues and ask questions in ways that I wouldn't know to do," Luby said of his colleagues on the project.

Initial testing of samples has confirmed high levels of lead among residents of rural Bangladesh who have very little access to motor vehicles.

Luby hopes that once the pathway of lead contamination is confirmed, future lead identification data in Bangladesh will be published by watchdog groups and garner widespread attention. "We are set up to be able to demonstrate how these rural residents become exposed to such high levels of lead," Luby said. He acknowledges, however, that it may require more to get the attention of powerful decision makers. "If rice for city people is also contaminated, we will have the attention of the political class."

Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 3,500+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 5,200+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Water Dynamics Affect Coral Reefs
Understanding what aids or degrades these ecosystems can help focus conservation efforts on reefs that are most likely to survive global warming.
Monday, September 19, 2016
New Method of Cancer Immunotherapy
Stanford chemists have dicovered a new form of cancer immunotherapy using sugar presence manipulation.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Bone Marrow Transplants Without Using Chemotherapy
Scientists have devised a way to destroy blood stem cells in mice without using chemotherapy or radiotherapy, both of which have toxic side effects.
Friday, August 12, 2016
Mapping Antibody Creation in Humans
Researchers have created the first, detailed map of the body's antibody production, which could suggest new treatment options for immune disorders.
Wednesday, August 03, 2016
Rapidly Generating Bone, Heart Muscle
A new study shows that combining positive and negative signals can quickly and efficiently steer stem cells down complex developmental pathways to become specialized tissues that could be used in the clinic.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
New Treatment for Rare Blood Cancers
Drug called midostaurin showed promise in an international clinical trial led by a Stanford physician.
Wednesday, July 06, 2016
Guided Chemotherapy Missiles to Target Cancer Cells
Latching chemotherapy drugs onto proteins that seek out tumors could provide a new way of treating tumors in the brain or with limited blood supply that are hard to reach with traditional chemotherapy.
Tuesday, July 05, 2016
Link Between Canned Food, BPA Exposure Revealed
New Stanford research resolves the debate on the link between canned food and exposure to the hormone-disrupting chemical known as Bisphenol A, or BPA.
Friday, July 01, 2016
Guided Chemotherapy Missiles
Latching chemotherapy drugs onto proteins that seek out tumors could provide a new way of treating tumors in the brain or with limited blood supply that are hard to reach with traditional chemotherapy.
Monday, June 20, 2016
New Imaging Method Reveals Nanoscale Details about DNA
Enhancement to super-resolution microscopy shows orientation of individual molecules, providing a new window into DNA’s structure and dynamics.
Monday, June 20, 2016
$10M Grant Funds Infection-Focused Center
The new center will explore intracellular and intercellular processes by which salmonella bacteria, responsible for more than 100 million symptomatic infections annually, infect immune cells.
Wednesday, April 06, 2016
Resurrecting an Abandoned Drug
Previously discarded drug shows promise in helping human cells in a lab dish fight off two different viruses.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Fracking's Impact on Drinking Water Sources
A case study of a small Wyoming town reveals that practices common in the fracking industry may have widespread impacts on drinking water resources.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Imaging Cells and Tissues Under the Skin
First technique developed for viewing cells and tissues in three dimensions under the skin.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Glucose-Guzzling Immune Cells May Drive Coronary Artery Disease
Researchers at Stanford University have found excessive glucose uptake by inflammatory immune cells called macrophages, which reside in arterial plaques, may be behind coronary artery disease.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Scientific News
Unravelling the Role of Key Genes and DNA Methylation in Blood Cell Malignancies
Researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center have demonstrated the role of Dnmt3a in safeguarding normal haematopoiesis.
Salford Lung Study - The First Real World Clinical Trial
In this podcast, we learn about the Salford Lung Study and its potential to revolutionize the way we assess new drugs and treatments around the world.
Point of Care Diagnostics - A Cautious Revolution
Advances in molecular biology, coupled with the miniaturization and improved sensitivity of assays and devices in general, have enabled a new wave of point-of-care (POC) or “bedside” diagnostics.
Editing Gene Mutations in Anemia
Researchers successfully use a new gene editing strategy to correct mutations that cause a form of anemia.
Genes Help Track Odd Migrations of Zika Mosquitoes
Study shows that mosquitoes carrying Zika virus or Dengue fever a genetically distinct around the world.
Nanomedicine Aims to Improve HIV Drug Therapies
New research aims to improve the administration and availability of drug therapies to HIV patients using nanotechnology.
Tumor Markers Reveal Lethality Of Bladder Cancers
Researchers found that detection of certain tumor cells in early stage cancers helps identify high-risk cancers.
Gene Editing Corrects Sickle Cell Mutation
Researchers demonstrate a potential pathway to developing gene-editing treatments for sickle cell disease.
Driving Mosquito Evolution to Fight Malaria
Researchers propose insect repellent in conjunction with insecticides to extend current insecticide lifetime.
Lab-on-a-Chip to Help Detect Cancer
In this podcast, we speak to Gustavo Stolovitsky to learn about his career and the work he is doing at IBM Research.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
3,500+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
5,200+ scientific videos