Romani Children in Kosovo being Poisoned by High Lead Levels

02 December 2005

European Roma Rights Centre Urges Immediate Action

The European Roma Rights Centre, an international public interest law organisation advocating for the human rights of the Romani population in Europe, this week sent letters asking the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, four Special Rapporteurs, and the Secretary General of the United Nations to take immediate action for the preservation of the lives and health of children in three Romani IDP camps in Kosovo.

Shocking new medical tests have revealed very high lead level readings in the Roma IDP camps of Kablare, Zitkovac and Chesmin Lug. On October 19, 2005, Society for Threatened Peoples of Goettingen, Germany, arranged for Dr. Klaus-Dietrich Runow to test for toxic heavy metals in the three IDP camps. Dr. Runow is a Doctor of Environmental Medicine specializing in detoxification of heavy metal contamination.

Hair samples were collected from 48 children between the ages of 1-15. The readings range from 20 µg/g (micrograms per gram) to 1200 µg/g with five children at this extreme range. Studies have shown a high correlation between lead in hair and the blood of children. In addition to high levels of toxic lead and other heavy metals, including antimony, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, vanadium and magnesium, Dr. Runow also found disturbingly low levels of selenium, a mineral essential for thyroid function and for binding and inactivating toxic heavy metals.

World Health Organization (WHO) tests in the Kosovo camps have, since 2000, consistently shown blood levels of 65 µg/dL (micrograms per deciliter). The Centers for Disease Control in the United States have a recommended treatment plan for different lead levels. For levels over 45 µg/dL, the victim must have therapy to reduce blood lead levels. Over 70 µg/dL, the person concerned must be hospitalized and removed permanently from the toxic environment. UNMIK's and WHO's own treatment protocol for Kosovo requires that if a reading is above 45 µg/dL, an individual is to be taken to Belgrade for treatment and if over 70 µg/dL, permanently removed from the camp. Failure to remove and treat these children violates many international conventions and local law.

Since UNMIK is the responsible agency and is an institution acting on behalf of the United Nations, the ERRC calls on the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to take immediate action in this medical emergency and asks the Secretary-General Kofi Annan to assist in rectifying this human rights tragedy, as well as commencing an internal investigation to ascertain how this dereliction of duty was allowed to continue for more than six years.

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