Changing Ideas About What is a Safe Blood Lead Level

Vial of blood

The table I have in mind when I interpret blood lead levels is called “Blood Lead” and can be found here.

My best guess, based on the one, the only national blood lead survey ever done in Australia, is that typically the mean blood lead level for Australian children is about 7 years behind the mean blood lead for US children.

The (November 2012) recommendation of The LEAD Group is that everyone has a blood lead level below 1 microgram per decilitre and that action be taken to lower blood lead levels that are above 1 microgram per decilitre.

You can find a list of news articles generated by two professors from our Technical Advisory Board (Professor Mark Taylor and Professor Chris Winder), on the subject of lowering Australian guidelines on blood lead available online here.

Nearly a year ago, the Today Tonight Ch 7 Lead Story was broadcast on 5th March 2013, and is available online (with a fact sheet). The Ch 7 news headline “The health of as many as 100,000 children under the age of five is under threat from lead pollution, linked to intellectual and behavioural problems” refers to Professor Taylor’s estimate that 100,000 Australian children under 5, probably have a blood lead level above 5 ug/dL.

There are two media releases that explain the dangers of blood lead levels above 2 micrograms per decilitre in both adults and children:

9th December 2010Current ‘acceptable’ blood lead levels too high, Overwhelming body of research supports The LEAD Group’s call for a change in national policy” and

3rd December 2010Radical new policy on prevention of lead poisoning”.

The fact sheets referred to in the most recent media release above are online at:

Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to adults” and “Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result” is also very useful.

For older research findings on health effects of higher blood lead levels, usually above 10 ug/dL, please refer to our most popular fact sheet of all time.

For the most recent and most comprehensive analysis of all research on the effects of low-level lead exposure, please see the “NTP MONOGRAPH ON HEALTH EFFECTS OF LOW-LEVEL LEAD” (June 13, 2012 pre-publication copy).

And for the latest (May 2012) US policy on childhood lead poisoning prevention, see “CDC Accepts Advisory Committee Recommendation to Replace “Level of Concern” for Lead Poisoning with New Reference Value” which basically states that the new blood lead action level for children under 5 years of age in the US will be 5 micrograms per decilitre (half the old action level of 10 ug/dL).

In Germany, since 2009, children up to the age of 14 get action from their doctor and the health department, if the blood lead level exceeds 3.5 ug/dL and the action level for women is 7 ug/dL and for men 9 ug/dL.

In Western Australia, the health department investigates, including home lead assessment, any blood lead level above 5 ug/dL for a child up to the age of 5 yrs.

Canada is currently considering making blood lead levels above 1 ug/dL the new action level, so that’s what The LEAD Group has asked the federal government to consider for Australians of all ages, so we can lead the world in having the most stringent response level, just like we currently lead the world in the volume of lead exports.

See for instance, the “Health Canada Final Human Health State of the Science Report on Lead” states: “Health effects have been associated with BLLs as low as 1–2 μg/dL… It is considered appropriate to apply a conservative approach when characterizing risk; accordingly, additional measures to further reduce exposures of Canadians to lead are warranted.”

Taylor, Winder, Lanphear call to lower Australian intervention PbB, MJA states: “…reviews [by the World Health Organization, Germany’s Human Biomonitoring Commission and US national agencies such as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Toxicology Program and Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Health Canada] indicate that the current [Australian] National Health and Medical Research Council [NHMRC] guideline for lead (10 ug/dL) is too high and should be revised downwards.”

Hopefully this information will motivate you to contact your Federal Health Minister to ask the Health Minister why your federal health department has not revised the blood lead action level downwards.

Yours Sincerely,

Elizabeth O’Brien
Winner of the United Nations Assoc’n of Australia (UNAA) World Environment Day (WED) Award for Outstanding Service to the Environment,
Manager, Global Lead Advice & Support Service (GLASS) run by The LEAD Group Inc.
PO Box 161 Summer Hill NSW 2130 Australia

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