Lead Contamination in Uruguay: The “La Teja” Neighborhood Case

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Our last review, “Lead Contamination in Uruguay” (Mañay et al. 1999), provided essential background information for the lead contamination incident in the La Teja neighborhood of Montevideo, Uruguay. Our reports, including those cited in this review, were officially acted upon by Sanitary and Environmental authorities beginning in late 2000 (Mañay et al. 2003). Before the release of our review, information on lead contamination in Uruguay was dispersed and incomplete. Although health risks to residents associated with lead contamination and exposure in polluted areas often went unrecognized, contamination events were previously known. An example is the Malvín Norte neighborhood case described by Cousillas et al. (1998).

It was not until 2001 that official attention was increasingly being paid to environmental lead exposure, although our research group had published several studies during the 1990s, including those reviewed in Mañay et al. (1999). The understanding of environmental risks associated with lead contamination in Uruguay improved as data on lead concentrations in blood and soil samples accumulated. The growing scientific evidence, along with press reports and court cases, increased awareness and concern among Uruguayans for lead-induced health risks (Amorin 2001; Matos 2001). As a consequence, new research studies on Uruguayan populations became available, including some that had gone unpublished for several years. Some interdisciplinary study results were officially communicated to the public as they became available, particularly those designed to prevent environmental health risks to children.

To illustrate the growing momentum for change, in late 2003, the use of tetraethyl lead in gasoline was phased out in Uruguay. Although not as yet officially evaluated, this change was expected to reduce lead levels in air and consequently reduce human blood lead levels as well.