LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News Vol 1 no 2 Winter 1993   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.

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Principles of a good strategy for the control of lead

by Dr ChloŽ Mason

Establishing a strategy for the control of lead is complex. Lead is very widely distributed in the environment and is toxic to people and all other forms of life. Lead has been used for a long time. It already has many existing uses and new uses are being developed. Some uses of lead, such as lead additive in petrol, result in this toxic substance being dispersed into the air, dust, soil, waterways and food, where it contaminates people and the ecosystem. For some applications, such as car batteries the lead is recoverable by secondary processing.

Any strategy addressing the control of lead needs to follow nine essential principles in order to achieve the objective of reducing background lead levels in the environment and human exposure to it, with particular emphasis on young children.

  1. Comprehensive approach.
    The strategy needs to be comprehensive, ie covering all aspects of past, current and new uses of lead. Past uses of lead may cause current exposure eg the removal of leaded paints.
  2. Control lead at its source ≠adopt the "Hierarchy of Control Measures".
    This principle leads to a focus on primary prevention, ie identifying and removing sources of lead exposure and controlling it as close as possible to the source, before children are harmed, eg the control measures which have the highest priority for available resources for lead in petrol would aim at reducing the average lead content of all petrol sold and reducing the total volume of petrol sales. Teaching caregivers to increase house cleaning and hygiene to stop the lead dispersed in exhaust fumes from poisoning their children is the lowest rung on the hierarchy and should never be seen as a permanent solution. This hierarchy needs to be applied wherever lead (or any toxic substance) occurs: work; home; beyond.
  3. Cradle to grave management.
    The government needs to maintain control of toxic substances throughout their life, from the source, along the pathways, to the fate for each use which is allowed.
  4. Sunset clauses for certain uses of lead.
    A sunset initiative ensures that lead and other chemicals with risks considered incompatible with ecologically sustainable development (ESD) would be phased out either totally or for certain uses as safer, acceptable alternatives become available. A document prepared for the OECD recommended that sunset initiatives were appropriate given the toxicity of lead and recommended that these be included within the wider concept of risk "reduction" (OECD "Cooperation on Existing Chemicals: Risk Reduction Lead Country Report on Lead", May 1991). The strategy should adopt sunset measures for certain uses of lead.
  5. Immediate action on top priorities.
    Currently, phasing out lead additive in petrol is the number one priority. Within other OECD countries, the phase down of lead additive in petrol has been the most important single factor in reducing blood lead levels. A range of actions can be taken to reduce the amount of lead dispersed by the use of leaded petrol. Some of these actions could be taken immediately.
  6. Timetable.
    The strategy needs to set real dates in a schedule of phase down for lead in petrol. It also needs to specify dates for other legislative or policy changes to control current and new uses of lead.
  7. Community consultation and representation.
    Generally, community cons≠ultation is desirable. The value of consultation may be considerable in developing some objectives, such as the preparation of codes of practice for removing lead paint. However, some other objectives, such as the reduction of lead in petrol does not require consultation, although discussions will be necessary between government officials and petrol refiners. Therefore, it is undesirable to subject the entire strategy to consultation which would serve to further delay its distribution and implementation. Owing to the scope of some objectives within the strategy, it would be appropriate to constitute subcommittees which could consult on a regional basis. It would also be appropriate to include community representation on the Lead Taskforce.
  8. Co-ordinated approach.
    The strategy should be a co≠ordinated approach between all relevant portfolios, their respective government agencies, and the three spheres of government federal, state and local, rather than solely the responsibility of the environment protection authority. Among the State government agencies which would need to be included are those responsible for health, transport (roads and traffic and trains), public works, public housing, workers health and safety, technical and further education, waste management, land management, water supply, local government, sport and recreation, and fisheries.
  9. Reporting on progress.
    The strategy should have written into it the mechanisms for reporting to the community on the rate of implementation and success of the strategy.

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