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Port Pirie blood lead levels Third Quarter Report 2019

Monday 25 November 

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

Director of Scientific Services, Dr David Simon, said the report provides a detailed analyses of the blood lead levels of Port Pirie children aged up to four years of age, as well as pregnant women.

“The most recent results show the average blood lead level for two-year-olds has increased from 5.8 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL) at this time last year, to 6.6 µg/dL continuing the trend seen earlier this year,” Dr Simon said.

“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, which has risen to 15 children compared to 12 children in 2018. 

“The results also show the overall average blood lead level of all children tested has risen from 4.1 µg/dL to 5.6 µg/dL.

“The results are concerning but expected given the prolonged high lead-in-air emissions between 2016 and 2018, carrying a large amount of lead contaminated dust across the city.

“There are some early signs that the deterioration in children’s blood lead levels may be starting to reduce compared to the deterioration reported in the first quarter and half-year reports.

“This reduction could be linked to the fact that children are less likely to be exposed to lead over the winter months, as they spend more time indoors and wet weather suppresses dust in the environment along with the reported reduction in average lead-in-air in 2019.

“It is, however, too early to speculate as to whether this trend will continue, however the Environmental Health Centre in Port Pirie will continue to work closely with the community and monitor the situation as we move closer to dry, windy conditions over summer.”

In partnership with the Targeted Lead Abatement Program (TLAP), all children with elevated blood lead levels are offered tailored interventions; however, given the known effect of lead on children’s developing brains, preventing exposure in the first place is the primary objective.

“Case workers work closely with parents and caregivers of children with elevated blood lead levels to assist families  in reducing lead exposure, ensuring each child’s living environment is as dust-free as possible,” Dr Simon said.

“Individually tailored intervention measures offered to families can include professional house cleaning, covering contaminated yard soil, assistance with access to healthy food and childcare to ensure each child’s lead exposure is reduced.”

SA Health provides voluntary blood lead screening through TLAP, which has been delivered by the Port Pirie Environmental Health Centre (EHC) since 1984.

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.

In January 2019, laboratory testing was changed from Nyrstar Analytical Services to SA Pathology to utilise the most up-to-date testing technology.

This change of testing may have contributed slightly to the observed upward trend in the results compared with previous years, and the impact of the change is being monitored closely. The most important thing however, is to continue action to reduce lead exposure as much as possible.

Visit the Implementation Program page to view the report.

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