Background: Though lead contaminated waste sites have been widely researched in many high-income countries, their prevalence and associated health outcomes have not been well documented in low- and middle-income countries.
Methods: Using the well-established health metric disability-adjusted life year (DALY) and an exposure assessment method developed by Chatham-Stephens et al., we estimated the burden of disease resulting from exposure to lead at toxic waste sites in three Latin American countries in 2012: Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay. Toxic waste sites identified through Pure Earth’s Toxic Sites Identification Program (TSIP) were screened for lead in both biological and environmental sample media. Estimates of cardiovascular disease incidence and other outcomes resulting from exposure to lead were utilized to estimate DALYs for each population at risk.
Results: Approximately 316,703 persons in three countries were at risk of exposure to pollutants at 129 unique sites identified through the TSIP database. Exposure to lead was estimated to result in between 51,432 and 115,042 DALYs, depending on the weighting factor used. The estimated burden of disease caused by exposure to lead in this analysis is comparable to that estimated for Parkinson’s disease and bladder cancer in these countries.
Conclusions: Lead continues to pose a significant public health risk in Argentina, Mexico, and Uruguay. The burden of disease in these three countries is comparable with other widely recognized public health challenges. Knowledge of the relatively high number of DALYs associated with lead exposure may be used to generate support and funding for the remediation of toxic waste sites in these countries and others.