LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News Vol 1 no 3 Spring 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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Letter to the Editor

Moving Out of the City

11 July 1993

Receiving the latest newsletter prompted me to comment on our experience with our son.

In Nov 1992 a woman came to our place asking if any children under the age of five were there. A survey of blood lead levels was taking place. Of course I agreed that our small son be tested, for though we lived about as far as you could get in Ashfield from a main road, I knew that lead was a problem in inner city suburbs.

I thought that our boy's lead level could be somewhat elevated because he was inclined to eat dirt, but nothing could have prepared us for the shock of finding that his blood lead level was 26 g/dL. (The level of concern in the United States at that time was 10 g/dL, while the level of concern in Australia was 25 g/dL.)

After we recovered from the initial shock we spoke to the Lead Action Group, and decided to move out of the house. Within a week my wife and son were with friends at Wilberforce while we looked for more permanent accommodation. One reassuring thing, however, was that our boy was not anaemic, and the doctors reassured us that this would minimise any damage.

Our boy was retested while at Wilberforce and this showed a blood lead level of 22, still bad, but at least a little lower. We resolved not to return to living in Sydney until his blood lead level was below 10, and found a place to rent about one kilometre from the Great Western Highway in Faulconbridge in the lower Blue Mountains.

Because our son's lead level was so high, the health authorities tested our house and garden for contamination. The initial examination puzzled them. There was lead in the carpet dust, in some of the paint samples and in the garden, but not in particularly high concentrations. It was only on a second examination that they found a dangerously high concentration of lead in the driveway.

Then we had a good idea where the lead had come from. Our boy was inclined to lick the flyscreens, and when he got a chance he would get into a pile of round stones near the driveway and put them in his mouth. Of course we would stop him as soon as we noticed him doing this, but apparently he got enough lead to raise his blood lead to the level it reached. In the house next door there was another small boy, 13 months older than our son, and his lead level was only 4.7.

In Feb 93, our boy's blood was tested again. We were delighted to find that his lead level was now down to 15.7, a dramatic drop that was equal to my wife's most optimistic hopes. The doctors were delighted, and when we asked them for advice, urged us to continue what we were doing.

On I June 1993 our boy's blood was tested again. This time is was 11, and our goal of getting his blood lead level below the American (and now Australian) level of concern was now within reach. The doctors were once again delighted, but they warned us that from now on the boy's blood lead level would decline more slowly.

I attribute this dramatic and substantial drop in our son's lead level to our move away from Sydney, and would urge any parents in our position to move out of the Sydney Metropolitan area if you possibly can. I am sure that it also was helped by my wife's excellent cooking. We made sure that our son had red meat followed by orange juice every day, so that his intake of iron would be maximised. (A high iron intake helps to counteract the effects of lead.) He was also getting breast milk, and I am sure that this helped to keep up his intake of calcium. My wife also stressed that she washed the vegetables in salted water to remove impurities.

As for our son's habit of licking things, it still continues, but fortunately up here there is less pollution, and so it is less of a problem.

However, moving from Sydney is not an easy option. I spend 5 hours a day travelling to and from work, and though I don't mind the travelling, it makes me tired, and it cuts into the time I can do other things. My wife misses her friends and the chance of speaking to people in her native language (Arabic), and finds the travelling a trial. We are more than usually housebound because we avoid taking our son on the roads because of the high levels of lead.

The move has also opened up many areas of disagreement between us, for our ideas of what to do and where to live after our boy is past or almost past the danger age are considerably different, and finding a compromise that pleases both will not be at all easy. It is also a great financial strain, and this has revealed that we have very different ideas about spending money.

We have been fortunate in getting our son's lead level down so quickly, and we both agree that moving has been worth every inconvenience and hassle. We have found excellent childcare in Faulconbridge through the Family Day Care people, and through this experience we have come to know each other a lot better.

However, our heart goes out to those many parents who do not know that their child's health is at risk from lead poisoning, or who are not in the position to uproot themselves and move to a place where the air is cleaner.

As for the petrol companies, I consider them to have committed a criminal assault against my child and thousands of others. They continue to put so much lead in Australian petrol long after it has been reduced in most of Western Europe and virtually eliminated in North America. As for the National Health and Medical Research Council and the other regulators who sat on their hands and allowed this to happen, I accuse them of criminal negligence. They have a lot to answer for.

Yours faithfully,
Michael Glass.

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