Satellite Banner
Technology
Networks
Scientific Communities
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

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 3,200+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,700+ 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 TechnologyNetworks.com 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

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
Ultra-Sensitive Test for Cancers, HIV
Test developed that is thousands of times more sensitive than current diagnostics.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Weighing up the Risk of Groundwater Contamination
Faulty, shallow wells can leak oil and natural gas into underground drinking-water supplies, Stanford Professor Rob Jackson finds.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Blood Test Could Transform TB Diagnosis
A simple blood test that can accurately diagnose active tuberculosis could make it easier and cheaper to control a disease that kills 1.5 million people every year.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Paper Published Based on RNA Game
Video-gamers have co-authored a paper describing a new set of rules for determining the difficulty of designing structures composed of RNA molecules.
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Marker Identifies Most Basic Form of Blood Stem Cell
Nearly 30 years after the discovery of the hematopoietic stem cell, Stanford researchers have found a marker that allows them to study the version of these stem cells that continues to replicate.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Flexible Gene Expression May Regulate Social Status
Scientists show how the selective expression of genes through epigenetics can regulate the social status of African cichlid fish.
Monday, January 11, 2016
World Forest Carbon Stocks Overestimated
Researchers with The Natural Capital Project show how fragmentation harms forests' ability to store carbon; more restoration is needed to reconnect forest patches.
Tuesday, January 05, 2016
Scientific News
Open Source Seed Initiative – A Welcome Boost to Global Crop Breeding
A team of plant breeders, farmers, non-profit agencies, seed advocates, and policymakers have created the Open Source Seed Initiative.
ASMS 2016: Targeting Mass Spectrometry Tools for the Masses
The expanding application range of MS in life sciences, food, energy, and health sciences research was highlighted at this year's ASMS meeting in San Antonio, Texas.
Implementation Science Approaches to Reduce Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission
The NIH study will investigate best practices to ease major disease burden in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Tough New Hydrogel Hybrid Doesn’t Dry Out
Water-based material could be used to make artificial skin, longer-lasting contact lenses.
New CAR T Cell Therapy Using Double Target Aimed at Solid Tumors
Researchers at Penn University have described how antibody, carbohydrate combination could apply to range of cancer types.
Lasers Carve the Path to Tissue Engineering
A new technique, developed at EPFL, combines microfluidics and lasers to guide cells in 3D space, overcoming major limitations to tissue engineering.
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.
Portable Test Rapidly Detects Zika
To better diagnose and track the disease, scientists are now reporting a new $2 test that in the lab can accurately detect low levels of the virus in saliva.
Erasing Unpleasant Memories with a Genetic Switch
Researchers from KU Leuven and the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology have managed to erase unpleasant memories in mice using a 'genetic switch'.
Unidentified Spectra Detector
New algorithm clusters over 250 million spectra for analysis, such that millions of unidentified peptide sequences can be recognised.
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
3,200+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,700+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FOR FREE!