Third quarter blood-lead report 2020

The Department for Health and Wellbeing has published its third quarter analysis of Port Pirie children’s blood lead levels, which shows blood lead level measures have plateaued.

Director of Scientific Services, Dr David Simon, said the report provides detailed analyses of the blood lead levels of Port Pirie children aged up to five years of age.

“There has been an improvement observed in some blood lead indicators – for instance the reduction in the number of children with high blood lead levels equal to and above 20 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL) has continued,” Dr Simon said

“However, the improvements or deteriorations in all other reported measures were slight – indicating that blood lead trends have generally stalled over the past 12 months.

“The plateauing observed in this report is likely to be related to an upward trend in average lead-in-air levels reported by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2020 compared to 2019, when there were extended periods of time when smelter operations were shut-down, as well as an increase in short-term spikes in airborne lead over the winter months compared to last year.

“Changes in lead-in-air do not have an immediate impact on population blood lead levels and there are a number of different factors that contribute to changes in a child’s blood lead levels.

“It takes time for blood-lead levels to decrease after lead exposure has reduced, and a child’s age, where they live, their behaviour and what they eat can all play a part.”

The percentage of children tested with blood lead levels above the current national investigation level has increased in the first nine months of 2020 to 59.2 per cent compared to 57.9 per cent at the same time last year.

The average blood lead of those children aged 24 months in the first nine months of 2020 was 6.6 μg/dL compared to 6.5 μg/dL at the same time last year. This measure is considered to be a robust indicator of trends in lead exposure for the whole population.

A new 12-month interim EPA license came into effect from 1 July 2020. This licence is intended to provide greater surveillance of emission spikes by introducing a shorter three-month averaging period for some lead-in-air targets. The annual average lead-in-air limit has also been reduced by 20 per cent in the new EPA license.

The Department continues to closely monitor the impact of these revised limits and targets on lead-in-air and lead exposure risk in Port Pirie.

The Department for Health and Wellbeing provides voluntary blood lead screening for the local community through the Targeted Lead Abatement Program, delivered by the Port Pirie Environmental Health Centre since 1984.

The blood lead levels are measured against the National Health and Medical Research Council, which advises that lead sources should be investigated then prevented or reduced at the exposure investigation level of 5 μg/dL and that blood lead levels above 10 μg/dL can have harmful effects on a number of body functions and organs in both adults and children.

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