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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 Dates: March 2018 - February 2021

Project Overview:

 Project implementation summary video. Video credit: CREEH
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 benefiting 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.

Project goals:
  • Evaluate soil with high lead levels using a new field test kit by engaging high school students in four communities with known sources of lead contamination
  • Improve community awareness of lead risks
  • Evaluate the environmental risks knowledge among school children and promote the improvement of their knowledge in science, technology, and environment
  • Develop a national action plan to prevent exposure to lead in Peru, based on the findings of this project

Experiences and implementation:
The research team began project implementation in four high schools. At the Augusto Cazorla High School, two Science and Technology (ST) teachers and 113 students were engaged in sample collection. Four sampling sectors around the source of lead contamination adjacent to the high school were identified and resulted in 249 soil samples. Analyses of lead levels of the 249 soil samples were 81 (33%) samples with a low level (<140 ppm), 151 (61%) samples (140-800 ppm) and 17 (7%) samples (> 800 ppm). Students prepared risk maps to identify the respective risk according to concentration of lead in parts per million (ppm) found at each sampling sector. Three ST teachers and 90 students from Fernando Belaunde Terry High School, located in the District of Ate in Lima sampled four sectors and collected 180 samples. Of the 180 samples collected, 99 (55%) samples had a low level of lead (<140 ppm), 72 (40%) samples (140-800 ppm) and 9 (5%) samples (> 800 ppm). The research project has engaged with 32 students from Jose Carlos Mariategui High School in the District of La Oroya and 52 students from Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe School in the District of Callao. Samples were collected and are currently undergoing analyses to determine the level of lead contamination.

6-330 survey 6-330 Ponce1 testing2  6-330 Ponce soil sample analysis 6-330 Ponce1 training
Informing and requesting mothers to sign their informed consent form  to participate in interviews and sample soil in the communities of Ate and Callao
Sampling of soil or dust that is found in homes, communities of Ate and Callao.  Analysis of the soil samples with the Lead Kit at the home of the interviewee - Communities of Ate and Callao Training about lead contamination, its effects on health and the environment in the communities of Ate and Callao. Photo credit: Johny Ponce

 6-330 Ponce1 testing 6-330 Ponce1  6-330 Ponce1 group photo 
 Field test kit demonstration. Photo credit: Lina Stankute Alexander  NAS and USAID site visit at the school. Photo credit: Lily Sweikert  PEER team, USAID and NAS group photo with field test kits