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Queensland to adopt new blood lead notification level

17 July 2014

Queensland will adopt a new standard for the reporting of blood lead levels in the wake of a national report.

Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said Health Minister Lawrence Springborg had advised the Government would accept a recommendation from her to reduce the current mandatory blood lead notification level from 10 micrograms per decilitre (ug/dL) to 5 ug/dL.

Dr Young said this process would require a regulatory change under the Public Health Act 2005.

The Chief Health Officer’s recommendation follows the release this week of a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) draft information paper.

The paper, Evidence on the effects of lead on human health, emphasises that although lead is a naturally occurring substance in the environment, no evidence exists to show it is necessary to human health.

As such, while there is no level considered safe, a 5 ug/dL level can be used as an indicator to determine unusual exposure that is cause for investigation.

Dr Young said the 5 ug/dL blood lead level was adopted in 2012 by the United States under advice from that country’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

She said the NHMRC information paper provided public health authorities and policymakers in Australia with powerful arguments for recommending similar changes to the existing notifiable blood lead level.

Dr Young said any change to the mandatory notifiable blood lead level would not impact upon extensive existing testing and public awareness programs about lead in the environment at Mount Isa.

A free blood lead testing program for residents is in place in Mount Isa through the QML Laboratory and funded by Glencore Mount Isa Mines. Routine lead testing for children under the age of five also is proposed to be undertaken at Mount Isa Hospital.

The hospital testing program is a component of the Mount Isa Lead Health Management Committee’s Strategic Plan 2013-2016, which was released last year.

Dr Young is the chair of the Mount Isa Lead Health Management Committee, which works with the North West Hospital and Health Service, the Living With Lead Alliance, local authorities and other agencies to help reduce the risk, particularly for children, of exposure to lead in the environment.

“We have some evidence that a public education and awareness campaign introduced at Mount Isa over the past few years has helped reduce the risk of exposure to lead in the environment for children,’’ Dr Young said. 

“More than 500 under-fives have been tested since 2010. Over that period, we have seen a reduction in the average recorded blood lead level in children aged under five who have been tested from 3.6 micrograms per decilitre (ug/dL) to 3 ug/dL. 

Dr Young said only one child aged five or under had recorded a blood lead level of more than 10 ug/dL during the first six months of 2014, while four children had recorded levels of between 5 ug/dL and 10 ug/dL.

In each of 2012 and 2013, three children under five recorded a blood lead level of more than 10 ug/dL.

Another 15 children under five recorded blood lead levels of between 5 ug/dL and 10 ug/dL in 2013 and 10 children did so in 2012.

Dr Young said a range of other initiatives were being pursued to complement the current testing programmes. 

“This includes looking at promoting increased lead screening by GPs and Indigenous health services and testing of pregnant women for lead,’’ she said.

“These are in addition to the existing awareness and mitigation campaigns being undertaken through the Living With Lead Alliance.’’

Dr Young said all children under the age of five in Mount Isa should have their blood lead levels tested annually. 

She said parents could take a number of simple steps to minimise the risk of lead exposure to their children.

These include:

  • Wash the face and hands of children before they eat or sleep
  • Discourage children from putting hands and other objects in their mouths
  • Wash all fruit and vegetables before eating
  • Use mops rather than brooms, to reduce the amount of dust that becomes airborne while cleaning
  • Use a wet cloth for dusting, instead of a dry cloth
  • Regularly wash family pets
  • Encourage children to play in grassed areas where the ground cover is good and not in areas of exposed dirt
  • Ensure that domestic yards have adequate ground cover which is well maintained
  • Good nutrition, including the minerals calcium, iron and zinc can help reduce lead absorption
Last updated: 17 July 2014