LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News Volume 15 Number 1, January 2015, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Editor-in-Chief: Elizabeth O’Brien, Editorial Team: Yiru Rocky Huang and David Ratcliffe

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Opinion: Pushing for People Power



Nov. 28, 2014, 9:35 p.m

[URL: http://www.theherald.com.au/story/2729383/opinion-pushing-for-people-power/?cs=4365 ]

“The kids at this school are all lead poisoned. That’s why they’re all so stupid” scoffed the diminutive, ill-informed inner-western Sydney primary school teacher. It was 1979 and Elizabeth O'Brien was the new third grade teacher at Gardeners Road Public School in Rosebery – one of four NSW schools where children had been tested for a NSW University blood lead study the year before. Twenty-five percent of the school’s children had been found to have a blood lead level above the then “level of concern” of 30 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL) and probably all of them (and the teachers, too) had a blood lead level above the proposed NHMRC response level of 5 µg/dL. The lead was in the air, unavoidable, mainly from leaded petrol vehicle emissions.

This was the study that brought about the introduction of unleaded petrol in Australia in 1985 and the requirement that all new cars must run on unleaded petrol from 1986.

Lead from petrol has poisoned everyone on the planet, yet some people have had extra lead poisoning from paint and other sources, such as plants like the Boolaroo lead smelter. Australia needs legislation like they have in the US, so that all potential home buyers or renters are advised in writing of potential or actual lead hazards (in soil, dust, paint and water) in a home before they decide to buy or rent it.

Yes lead poisoning tends to lower the IQ of children affected, amongst other irreversible effects, but that doesn't mean they become "stupid". That doesn't necessarily mean they can't function in the world as adults. There are so many variables to consider - the child might have had a very high potential IQ to begin with, they might flourish in a different way than they would have before being affected by lead. Lead poisoning is not a life sentence. Some of the children at Gardener's Road Public School were brilliant. Professor Lanphear’s animation of the downward IQ shift across the population, in “Little Things Matter” video, gives an excellent view of the problem for children. And The LEAD Group has been developing for two dozen years, the advice for reducing the impacts of past lead exposure for people of all ages.

But still, the question remains: how do we make Boolaroo safe now for current and future residents as well as overcome the negative health and behavioural impacts for all the people who have ever lived and worked there? How do we ensure that future generations aren't poisoned when they swim in Cockle Creek or eat the shellfish? How do we ensure that having lived at Boolaroo, you can still get your life, brain function and health back?

We have waited 20 years for the Australian Government to finally act on lead problems across all age groups. The opportunity to do so properly, effectively, must not be squandered.

What is needed is thorough and ongoing monitoring of blood lead levels of everyone (young and old) who lives, or who has ever lived, near lead smelter sites and other lead-affected areas such as inner cities and old housing.

Blood tests for lead and other heavy metals can be ordered from your GP for free through Medicare, bulk-billed up to 4 times in every six months, which means these tests are accessible and easy for all. It's so important that people get tested. And get tested again. And again.

The LEAD Group proposes an environmental health lead tests results website, the purpose of which would be to streamline the collation and analysis of environmental sample results from around the country and the graphing of individual's blood lead levels over time, plus provide them with appropriate advice to lower their blood lead level. With all of the data in one place, the health of an individual can be tracked, hopefully showing improvement, with the aid of appropriate medical advice provided by the Health Department to their GP, further dust etc sample analysis and the necessary remediation of all affected areas.

The LEAD Group calls upon Pasminco/Zinifex/Nyrstar executives past and present to be the first to contribute to a remediation and health advice service fund for all Boolaroo residents.

It is unacceptable that residents have been, and are being, ruthlessly exploited by the company, offered cheap rent in areas that sorely need remediation. The company washes their hands of responsibility whilst residents suffer the consequences.

Let's make the 21st century the century where all lead mistakes of the 20th century are righted.

The LEAD Group’s proposed website is about people power. It's about gathering the data to enable holding companies like Pasminco to account. With the data in one place it can be used as a force for change.

The LEAD Group supports local communities with free information and referrals, and specifically supports the Boolaroo Action Group’s call for remediation now, not another young children’s blood lead study in a year’s time, but we also believe that people who take their own action (test their own and their children’s blood heavy metals levels and test their environments), are the ones most likely to be able to overcome the contamination they live in.

A graph of blood heavy metal levels over time for every person who ever lived near the Boolaroo lead smelter, plus advice for doctors on how to reduce the levels, and free remediation as required, would be the best way to give healthy brains and longevity back to the community.Elizabeth O’Brien and Sadie Grant Butler are from The LEAD Group Inc, an environmental health charity

Anna Muraoka, Elizabeth O’Brien and Harrison Desmond

L to R: Anna Muraoka, Elizabeth O’Brien and Harrison Desmond
at The LEAD Group office. Photo: Yiru Rocky Huang.

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