QUEENSLAND’S government will adopt new standards to identify “unusual” blood lead levels in the wake of findings from a national report stating there is no safe level of lead exposure.
The report released by the National Health and Medical Research Council this week recommended the government re-evaluate its mandatory blood lead notification level from 10 micrograms per decilitre (ug/dL) to 5 ug/dL.
Lead Working Committee chair, associate professor Sophie Dwyer, said the paper didn’t suggest that 5ug/dL was “safe” but reiterated that it should be used as an indicator of unusual lead exposure. “Lead is a naturally occurring substance in the environment, but there is no evidence to show it is beneficial to human health,” she said.
“As such, there is no level considered safe — 5 ug/dL is simply an indicator used to determine unusual exposure that is cause for investigation.”
Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said Health Minister Lawrence Springborg had advised the government would accept the recommendation to change blood lead level notification yesterday, a process requiring regulatory change under the Public Health Act 2005.
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 an argument to recommend similar changes in Australia.
Dr Young said any change to the mandatory notifiable blood lead level would not impact on existing testing and public awareness programs about lead in the environment at Mount Isa.
“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 3.6ug/dL to 3 ug/dL.”
Dr Young launched a hospital testing program in Mount Isa last year to increase the number of children tested to help provide more accurate data about the lead levels among young children in the city. She said all children under five in Mount Isa should have their blood lead levels tested annually.
A spokesperson from Mount Isa Mines said the company received the draft information paper yesterday afternoon and will be reviewing it thoroughly.