LEAD Action News vol 1 no 1 Feb 1993
Letters to the Community lead Information Centre
Should kids pump petrol?
I work as a safety consultant to industry in Queensland. I have been asked to find out if the filling of a motor car with petrol by a child can cause adverse health effects.
To the best of my knowledge you are the only organisation that studies lead contents in products.
Could you give me some advice on whether the practice of filling by children should continue, and the extent of health risks?
To get to the meat of your request, the area of lead exposure from handling petrol is problematic. As you rightly point out, the main hazard would be from hydrocarbons. Organo-lead compounds are quite dilute in petrol and as they are not particularly volatile, I would imagine inhalation to be a minor problem. Indeed, I would be more worried about skin exposure, where the lead absorption would probably be assisted by the hydrocarbons it would be accompanied by.
Having said that, I recall talking to someone in the NT Health Service a couple of years ago, who told me that Aboriginal petrol sniffers can get extremely high blood lead values (sufficient to cause encephalopathy, and in some cases fatal), so the picture is not clear. Interestingly, he also told me it was quite rare to get hospital cases of petrol sniffers from communities who sniffed unleaded petrol. Perhaps we should promote the safety of the sniffing of unleaded petrol.
Dr Chris Winder, Dept of Safety Science, University of NSW
We are currently undertaking a major study in the Broken Hill mining community to determine the source of lead in humans using the Pb isotope fingerprinting method and speciation of minerals in dusts using SEM, XRD and chemical methods.
The dominant source of Pb in children is from mining activity but there are others, usually minor, which include Pb from air, food and water. The Pb contents of water are low (usually < 3 µg/L) and contribute insignificantly to body burden. Likewise, the Pb content of food is low, based on our estimates from Port Pirie and Adelaide; but we are currently measuring a 6-day duplicate diet from 5 families at Broken Hill to confirm this. The other source, air, can have contributions from the mine and also petrol. We have shown from the Pb isotope analyses of high volume filters in three locations in Broken Hill that, at least in the central location, most of the Pb is from petrol.
Of relevance to your query is that we have shown at least one child (and probably 3 children), has blood Pb derived mainly from petrol. This child helps his father at the service station and Dad admits the child would easily be exposed to petrol fumes. The Pb reading of the child is about 20 µg/dL. This is double the US Centres for Disease Control recommended level of concern for children; i.e. the level at which Pb is thought to have an impact on health, especially IQ.
Because of the potential health impacts and the fact that small children are more at risk because of their height with respect to the filler cap and the apparent increased density of fumes and deposition of Pb on the ground, petrol-filling by small children is not a practice to be encouraged.
Dr Brian Gulson, Chief Research Scientist, CSIRO Division of Exploration Geoscience, & technical consultant to the LEAD Group.
Should my child be blood tested for lead?
I recently watched a story on the Midday Show about the dangers of lead poisoning in children under four years old.
I would like some more information on this. Specifically, how would I know if I need to get my child tested? Are there any specific symptoms to watch for? Our car has been letting in fumes for the past few months and this has made me concerned. My daughter is 2˝.
I would also like to be more aware of sources of lead In the environment.
There are no noticeable symptoms of low-level lead poisoning. Lead is a widely dispersed neurotoxin present in household dust, soil, air, paint and to a lesser extent, in water and food.
Your child is at risk if they:
What can a parent do?
a) Community prevention activities should be
triggered by blood lead levels greater than or equal to 10 µg/dL (0.48
(from CDC, Strategic Plan for the Prevention of Childhood Lead Poisoning, Oct 1991, p2. Copies available from Community Lead Information Centre.)
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