(NaturalNews) Hundreds of thousands of people die each year from lead poisoning, and while it is more common in developing countries, it's not restricted to those regions. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers lead poisoning to be one of the top 10 chemical exposures threatening public health, accounting for 0.6 percent of global diseases.
Developing children are the most susceptible to lead poisoning, which can cause irreversible neurological damage that contributes to intellectual disabilities and lowered IQs.
Until recently, one of the main causes for lead poisoning was thought to be exposure to paint containing lead, which can be easily inhaled as a dust during home renovations. At least 30 countries have tried to phase out lead paint, but existing lead paint remains in high quantities all over the world.
Adult exposure can occur during industrial processes such as recycling and smelting, but environmental activities like mining have also contributed to thousands of deaths.
In 2010, Doctors Without Borders diagnosed and treated more than 1,000 children suffering from lead poisoning in a Nigerian village, some of whom were blind, parlayed and struggling at school from learning disabilities. The poisoning was caused by artisanal mining from a gold rush and killed at least 400 children. The exact number of deaths is still unknown, because the villagers tried to conceal the death count in fear that the government would put a halt to the lucrative mining, which paid 10 times more than farming.
New research conducted in Middle America has discovered a possible new culprit for lead poisoning, particularly throughout parts of Africa and China
Researchers from Ashland University, a mid-sized private university located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland, and Columbus, Ohio, tested African-made cookware and found "considerable lead content" in the majority of their samples.
Led by Dr. Jeff Weidenhamer, professor of chemistry at Ashland University, the research involved testing 29 samples of aluminum cookware made in Cameroon, a country in West Africa that borders the Bight of Bonny, which is part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean.
The study, "Lead Exposure from Aluminum Cookware in Cameroon," simulated cooking by boiling acidic solutions in the cookware for two hours, and then measured the amount of lead extracted from the solution. The solution contained almost 200 times more lead than California's Maximum Allowable Dose Level (MADL) of 0.5 micrograms per day.
"Unlike some other sources of lead contamination, lead poisoning from cookware can impact entire families over a life-time. Even low-level lead exposures can result in reduced IQ and neurological deficits, and contribute to cardiovascular disease," said Weidenhamer.
The cookware, which is commonly found throughout parts of Africa and Asia, is made from recycled scrap metal including auto and computer parts, cans, and other industrial debris
Although there is no current regulatory standard set for lead in cookware, the WHO and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that no amount of lead exposure is safe.
"This previously unrecognized lead exposure source has the potential to be of much greater public health significance than lead paint or other well-known sources that are common around the world," said Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of Occupational Knowledge International in San Francisco.
Published in the August issue of the journal Science of the Total Environment, the study confirmed the discovery of significant levels of aluminum and cadmium that also leached from the cookware.
In regard to recent surveys revealing persistent lead exposure in Africa and Asia, Gottesfel added, "The presence of lead in food cooked in these pots may be one contributing factor to the ongoing lead poisoning epidemic."