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Alarming blood lead level in children - Special report

Friday, 05 November 2021 13:52 hits 368 times

Gia, 11 has a blood lead level of 104 μg/dL (micrograms per deciliter), 20 times higher than the blood lead reference value for children – 5. Giorgi, 9, also has a blood lead level 12 times higher than average. Both of the children were tested by Limbach Laboratory – a leading diagnostics group in Europe. Children living in Poti, Javakhishvili, and Chavchavadze streets, have blood lead levels 2-6 times higher than usual.

Among the sources of lead exposure in children are polluted air, lead paints, and leaded fuels.

Two buildings for internally located persons are situated on 30 Javakhishvili Street near Poti Free Industrial Zone. Nearby is located Poti Sea Port Corporation, where workers load and unload nitrates, aluminum oxide, copper concentrate, carbamide, even corn and wheat out into the open.

Carbamide is used in fertilizers and explosives. This compound is often linked to the explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020. The blast caused at least 130 deaths, thousands of injuries, destruction of the port, and one-third of the buildings in the city. Dangerous nitrate was confiscated from the ship sailing from Batumi to Mozambique 7 years earlier due to the debt of the shipowner. Thousands of tons of carbamide are stored in the port of Poti, out into the open.

On a windy day, the dust of nitrates and other chemical substances is directly thrown at the buildings. Various types of cargo, such as dust-forming materials, concentrates are transported by uncovered trucks belonging to Transford LTD, Channel Energy LTD Georgia, and other companies. During nights, hundreds of fast-moving, loaded cars cover the city with chemical dust.

„Puddles around the housing are full of nitrate membranes. Dead pigeons cover building roofs.“

According to the Department of Environmental Supervision reports, rain produces a stream polluted by chemical waste and substances that flow directly into the sea, without filtration and pipes.

Almost 100 internally displaced families, including 52 children, live in two buildings on Javakhishvili street. Nukri Zhvania was advised to test the blood of his son, Gia when they found out that the boy’s attention span was getting worse. Initial analysis showed a high blood lead level. After some doubting, another test was performed in Germany, Limbach Laboratory. Again, results were alarming – blood lead level of 104 μg/dL instead of 5.

Local NGO started managed to test several other children living on Javakhisvhili Street. Again, high blood and mercury levels were found.

Locals created the petition in the name of the city assembly to monitor the atmospheric air near the buildings and test all 52 children in a laboratory. In addition, they have organized rallies and blocked the road to the port. Locals believe that the air on Javakhisvhili Street contains heavy metals and other harmful substances.

In July 2020 National Environmental Agency relocated the mobile air quality control station from Tbilisi to Poti. According to documentation „mountain stories“ requested from the agency, the station detected 45 occasions of particulate matter (PM10) concentration higher than usual, in most cases by 1.3, 1.4, and 1.7 times.

National Center for Disease Control and Public Health sees these results as alarming. As the director of the center Amiran Gamkrelidze, explains, a high concentration of particulate matter (PM10) can cause eye diseases, asthma, bronchitis, cancer, liver diseases, adverse effects on the circulatory system, etc. Therefore, Gamkrelidze instructed the mayor’s office to establish the air quality control plan.

On January 22, 2021, National Environmental Agency shut down the air quality monitoring station on Javakhishvili Street.

In his letter to „mountain stories, “Andro Aslanishvili, the agency head, says: Since the station was placed there, we explained to everyone interested that it should be regularly checked, calibrated, and maintained. Locals were resistant; they would not let us support the station. Therefore, it could not function properly. Remote check of air analyzers showed that they have been working in „alarm mode“ since December. Data provided by the automatic air quality control station in Poti was not reliable anymore. There was a risk of damaging expensive air analyzers. On January 22, after communication with street residents, we were able to shut down the station. It should be transported back to Tbilisi for detailed diagnostics.

„Technicians arrived to change filters. National Environmental Agency said desert storms caused high levels of pollution, and a new filter must have been installed. We did not let them approach the station because suspected they wanted to alter the data“. - Vano Kukulava, a resident of Javakhishvili street, says they contacted the agency and city hall with a request to give publicity to data but no avail, evoking the subsequent mistrust.

On March 5, Nino Tandilashvili, Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia, stated that the air quality control plan for Poti could not be established for two reasons. First, air quality should be checked continuously for at least 329 days. Unfortunately, data from Poti covers only four months. The second reason is that according to Georgian law, the obligation of establishing the plan will enact from September 1, 2022.

Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia gave several recommendations to the local government: to wet-clean the street, limit the speed and volume of the traffic, and permit carrying dust-forming materials by covered trucks only.

Five months later, the traffic flow volume is the same. Gocha Kurdgelia, mayor of Poti, explains that this road has no alternative. A road sign limiting the speed to 30km/h has been erected, but drivers ignore it. Video footage shows uncovered trucks carrying dust-forming materials. Mayor’s office allotted 50000 Lari to test children in a laboratory.

Anjela Bechvaia, living in Poti, 10 minutes from the settlement for internally located, cannot tell if his son’s health can wait for September 1, 2022. Giorgi has a blood lead level of 65μg/dL instead of 5. Boy faints two times a month and needs medical assistance.

The minimum safe concentration of blood lead is not yet determined. However, the World Health Organization recommends starting treatment if blood lead level equals or exceeds 5 μg/dL.

A two-story building in Chavchavadze 277 is encircled by factories belonging to „Moulds and Metals Georgia LTD“ and „Caucasian Metals Terminal LTD. “ The former is a metallurgic factory. The latter recycles polymetallic concentrates.

Gocha Kurdgelia, current Mayor of Poti, is a 15% shareholder in the company. He also owns 3.5% of shares in two other companies – „Metalex+ LTD“ and „Metalex trans LTD. “52.5% shareholder in both of those companies is „Transford LTD, “the one carrying dust-forming materials by uncovered trucks. Apalon Bjalava, director of „Transford LTD“ from 2013 to 2020, is a current member of the Poti city assembly from „Georgian Dream. “

„After I knew the results from the laboratory, I took the boy to the mayor’s office and asked for their help. Nothing is wrong with this kid; he looks great, they responded. Am I asking for too much? Millions? Let us move from here. What is the point of treatment if he has to continue breathing this air?“ – Anjela Betchvaia asks NGOs and media for help.

Contrary to Javakhishvili Street, the Poti mayor’s office has neither addressed the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia regarding Chavhavadze Street nor funded laboratory tests for children living there.

Lasha Orjonikidze

Multimedia reporter at mtisambebi.ge, a historian by education. Lasha works on topics related to environmental protection, mountainous regions, and social issues. E-mail: lasha_orjonikidze@yahoo.co.uk

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