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Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)

Preventing lead exposure of Peruvian children from mining and battery recycling with a new field test kit 

PI: Johny Cesar Ponce-Canchihuamán,, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia and the Center for Research in Environmental Health (CREEH Perú)
U.S. Partner: Alexander van Geen, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University

Project Overview:

Exposure to lead (Pb) in contaminated soil is a significant health threat for children throughout Peru, a country with a long history of mining. However, Peru does not have the resources to carry out expensive laboratory or field tests to identify hot spots of lead contamination. For this project, the PI Dr. Ponce-Canchihuamán and his team will collaborate with U.S. partner Dr. Alexander van Geen to use a new field kit for Pb in soil developed at Columbia University. They will sample potentially contaminated soils in areas representing four different contamination types in Lima East, Callao, La Oroya, and Cerro de Pasco. This kit is intended for public use, so the team will work with local high schools to deploy the kits as a hands-on project component in a science course to assess its feasibility for a national-scale deployment, ensure data reliability, and improve local education. The researchers will train high school teachers and selected high school students to use the field kit and will provide enough kits to conduct measurements on 10,000 soil samples (about 2,500 per community) over three years. The teachers will incorporate deployment of the field kit into their courses, and with the PEER team’s support, teach students about lead, its origin, and its health impacts, as well as how to use the kit for soil sampling. Students will be asked to take five soil or house dust samples in their community where young children play and record sample details such as GPS location using the SurveyCTO app ( on a provided smartphone. Afterwards, teachers will supervise the soil analysis with the kit to determine the lead level. This will ensure data reliability and consistency and allow for student discussion about kit chemistry. Finally, the students will create maps of soil lead and present these to their community, along with information about lead, its risks, and how to minimize the exposure of infants, in particular.

The project will enable the researchers to identify areas of high lead risk in communities that are impacted by different lead-contaminating industries, including battery recycling (Lima), ore mining (Cerro de Pasco), smelting (La Oroya), and ore shipping (Callao). Through the schools, the maps will be used to help the affected communities to develop a local action plan. This project will help empower local communities to identify lead contaminated areas and safe areas, which they otherwise would not have had the means to test. The availability to generate locally generated environmental data can help rebuild trust and empower communities to prioritize contaminated areas. This in turn can enable industries that are perceived as contaminating but really are not to contribute to the economic growth of the town. Communities will also be able to develop a plan for how to prevent exposure of young children. The lead field kit the team seeks to validate in Peru presents an affordable way to find and prioritize areas for clean up, and its deployment through high school science classes offers a sustainable way to scale up these kits while improving science education. Over the three years of the project, local development impacts will include the training and education of 2,000 students and their science teachers and the analysis of 10,000 soil samples. Students will create a map of soil lead risk and present these to their community, along with basic information about lead and how to prevent exposure. By incorporating the kit into science classes, students benefit from a hands-on activity to produce relevant environmental measures while learning chemistry and technology. University students involved in the project will also gain valuable fieldwork experience supporting the deployment of the field kit and be able to use this as part of their thesis. In addition, the experience will help to establish whether this participatory citizen science approach benefitting science and technology education, as well as public health, could be scaled up nationally. The results will be used in collaboration with various actors and stakeholders to develop a national plan to identify and reduce lead exposure.

Summary of Recent Activities:

During the March to June 2018 reporting quarter, the project team obtained the approval of the “Lead free kids - Peru” project by the Ethics Committee and have obtained commitment of participation from six educational institutions; one to carry out the pilot and five for the implementation of the project in the intervention areas. The team has signed an inter-institutional agreement with the Universidad Nacional Daniel Alcides Carrión (UNDAC) of Pasco to participate as an ally of the implementation of the project in Pasco, as well as with the Universidad Nacional del Centro de Perú (UNCP) as an ally of the implementation of the project in La Oroya, Junín. The universities have opened up the opportunity for thesis students and volutneers to work on the PEER project. It is expecting to support five thesis students and 15 volunteers. The students and volunteers were trained on the preparation of the lead kits in soil, sampling, use of the SurveyCTO application, and preparation of risk maps using Google Earth.

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