SA Health has published the first quarter analysis of Port Pirie children’s blood lead levels for 2019, which shows deterioration in all children’s blood lead level measures.
The report analyses the blood lead levels of Port Pirie children aged 0-4 years and pregnant women.
SA Health’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nicola Spurrier, said although the results are very concerning, they are not unexpected given the rise in lead-in-air emissions over the past two years during the smelter redevelopment.
“The most recent blood lead level results show a 2.6µg/dL (micrograms per decilitre) increase in the average blood lead level for children aged two years (average level of 7.5 µg/dL),” Dr Spurrier said.
“The results also show the overall average lead level of all children tested has risen to 6.8 micrograms per decilitre, which is a 48% increase compared to the same period last year.
“Most concerning is the increase in the number of children at high risk of health effects with blood lead levels equal to or above 20 µg/dL (9 children) compared to 2018 (5 children).
“Last summer has been the driest this millennium for Port Pirie, with more frequent strong winds blowing from the smelter towards residential areas, which we know can contribute to more lead in the air.”
All children with elevated blood lead levels receive tailored interventions; however, given the known effect of lead on children’s developing brains, preventing exposure in the first place is the primary objective.
The tailored interventions can include professional house cleaning, minor home repairs and covering yard soil to ensure living conditions are as dust-free as possible.
SA Health has provided voluntary blood lead screening through the Targeted Lead Abatement Program (TLAP) that has been delivered by the Port Pirie Environmental Health Centre (EHC) since 1984.
Rob Thomas, a TLAP spokesperson, says that TLAP will increase funding to the EHC to employ an additional case worker to support families, assisting them to take actions and reduce children’s blood lead levels.
“TLAP’s immediate focus is to step up its investment in the resources available to the Environmental Health Centre (EHC), which provides front-line support to families in Port Pirie who have children with elevated blood lead levels, to address the increased case load resulting from the current conditions,” Mr Thomas said.
“TLAP funds two of the four people currently employed in these important case worker roles in Port Pirie. This additional funding brings the total number of case workers to six, bolstering the capacity of the EHC to connect with families in the Port Pirie community.”
The blood lead levels are measured against the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), which advises blood lead levels above 10 μg/dL can have harmful effects on a number of body functions and organs in both adults and children, and that lead sources should be investigated then prevented or reduced at the exposure investigation level of 5 μg/dL.