LEAD Action News Vol
1 no 3 Spring 1993 ISSN 1324-6011
NSW Lead Task Force Working Groups
By Elizabeth O'Brien, Fred Salome and Dr. Chloë Mason
The LEAD Group has been lobbying for two years for government action on lead and since June 1993 has been heavily involved in the New South Wales Government Lead Task Force Working Groups.
The LEAD Group's nominees were accepted on to seven of the original eight New South Wales Working Groups. A ninth Working Group, to plan education strategies, is being formed.
Having no nominees on The Lead in Broken Hill Working Group, The LEAD Group has scant information on its activities. The rumour is that an expert from the United States advised shifting the town five kilometres as the only economically viable solution to lowering blood lead levels. An expert from Port Pirie knocked this idea on the head by pointing out the social problems which might arise. It would not appear that experts from Port Pirie have all the answers, however, as, in that town, $30 million has been spent over the last ten years to reduce blood lead levels of children by only 20%. By comparison, over a ten year period in the United States, when lead was being removed from petrol and welded cans largely replaced soldered food cans, the average blood lead level fell by 75%.
The Lead in Petrol Working Group has been under pressure to make recommendations on a short term strategy, which have already been put to Cabinet. If the first of these is successful, the lead content of petrol in NSW will have fallen by 25% by Jan 94. This will be achieved at zero cost to the refiners by lowering the octane rating of the fuel and thus the need for lead. Your lobbyist will not rest until we have a final phase-out date for leaded petrol, as part of a long term strategy.
The Lead in Paint Working Group is proposing to recommend that lead paint removal be controlled by industry self-regulation, standards and codes of practice rather than by legislative controls. Education of home owners and renovators, domestic painters and the industrial sector is a major priority. Disposal of contaminated waste from lead removal projects is a further area of concern and a number of options are being explored by the RTA and the Water Board. The LEAD Group considers it a priority that the disposal strategy also addresses the safe disposal of leaded waste from domestic sources. It seems to me that it is also essential to provide a service where lead levels in paint about to be stripped, or dust about to be disturbed during renovation, can be ascertained, and appropriate advice for safe removal can be given.
The Lead in Water and Waste Working Group is preparing a document which looks at the level of risk from water and waste water, available data on lead in water, further investigations required and strategies for minimising the level of risk. In Western Australia new regulations have been introduced limiting the lead content of sewerage sludge for agricultural use. In NSW effluent is not permitted to be used on plant crops for human consumption, though its use is increasing on crops for animal fodder.
Other problems to be solved are how the sale of lead solder should be controlled so that it is not used for plumbing in that section of the water system under private control, and that parents of children with high blood lead levels should have a water testing service available to them and possibly assistance, on a means test basis, for plumbing alterations to reduce lead.
The Lead in Air Working Group has created a list of over one hundred sources of lead in air and concentrated on those emitting more than one tonne per annum. This includes lead from motor vehicle exhausts, lead emitted during recycling of old cars and sump oil, lead from smelters and certain industries and from the burning of wood and coal. The current National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines on lead in air, were created for a blood lead target of 30 µg/dL and therefore, in my view, must be lowered, in line with the new blood lead target of 10 µg/dL. The Boolaroo community representative is keen to see the new NHMRC guidelines utilise the world's best practice of measuring lead in air (ie. daily monitoring, rather than every six days) and other working group members suggest that NSW will require a legislative framework to ensure compliance with the guidelines.
At the last Lead in Soil and Dust Working Group meeting our community representative asked that the Working Group seek the opinion of the Crown Solicitor about the Australian & New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) discussion paper of June 1993 called 'Financial Liability for Contaminated Site Remediation'. For a copy phone CEPA Legal and Economic Section (06) 274 1078. The community representatives will be pushing for no further delay in phasing-out lead in petrol, because while lead in petrol is continually being added to the lead in soil and dust, action to abate such soil and dust can only be limited and temporary.
The Lead in Food Working Group saw strong lobbying from canning industries and fertiliser manufacturers who claim their products do not add significant quantities of lead to food. A West Australian study found significant lead contamination only in imported food cans with acidic contents (e.g. beetroot, pineapple). The unanswered questions at the meeting were what are the sources of lead in those seven foods which contribute the major portion of lead in the standard diet of a child, i.e., in whole meal bread, brown rice, ham (not canned), cornflakes, lamb's liver, canned pineapple and dark chocolate.
The Lead in Children's Blood Working Group chaired by the NSW Health Department has made good progress. It has come up with a set of education strategies for all groups in the community who will need to be involved if children's blood lead levels are to be lowered. It is imperative that these strategies feed into the National Lead Education Campaign, which will be well under way by February 1994.
Obviously, a successful education campaign will involve many people seeking further information and services, which would best be provided at Lead Centres in Sydney, Broken Hill and Wollongong. (Boolaroo already has an Environmental Health Centre.)
An information base essential to these Centres is already in existence at our Community Lead Information Centre in Sydney, where all work is done on a voluntary basis. The collective expertise of The LEAD Group's Technical Advisory Board, also voluntary, is unsurpassed. In view of this, and the fact that a National Lead Education Campaign would vastly increase the enquiries and the need for assistance, the simple solution would be for the government to appropriately house, extend and fund our current operation.
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