LEAD Action News
3 no 1 Summer 1995.
by Elizabeth O'Brien
There's been some movement [downward] at the [air lead monitoring] station and the word is getting around [both the truth about lead and the urban myths about benzene]. But the NSW State Government still fails to act in non-smelter/mining communities despite the Environment Minister's promises. So heaven help children in the other states where they don't even talk of action!
This issue of LEAD Action News is a minefield of information designed to help NSW lead-concerned citizens decide how to vote at the coming elections on March 25th 1995. The lead survey which was sent to all parties, flags all the major actions any government would need to take (see page 11). Results can be obtained by phoning the Community Lead Information Centre on (02) 550 0095, or phoning the party direct.
But first up, we have the summary of the available evidence of the connection between lead and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Up to half the children who suffer sustained high blood lead levels in early childhood will suffer ADD. According to Norman Swan of ABC's 4 Corners, 16,000 Australian children are currently taking amphetamines with their breakfast for ADD, and presumably there are thousands of other children not being treated for ADD. Then voters can read about all the other well-established justifications for preventing childhood lead poisoning (see page 6) and about the actions that one mother (a local government councillor) was inspired to take, after her son became lead poisoned.
Pro lead in petrol propaganda (often anonymous) continues to overwhelm innocent newsletter editors everywhere, as well as car magazine editors whose readers are encouraged to believe that the availability of leaded petrol is a life or death issue for their cars (which totally ignores experience in Canada, Japan, Austria, the USA, etc that cars don't die when lead is phased out of petrol). The push, clearly backed by manufacturers of the lead additive for petrol, would like to convince us that everyone with a pre 1986 car should use leaded petrol so kids don't get leukaemia. I said it last issue and I'll say it again - the amounts of benzene in leaded and unleaded (91-93 octane) petrol are equivalent in Australia. Benzene emissions are reducing, as are lead emissions from vehicles. Dr Colin Grant of the NSW EPA states that typical Sydney ambient benzene levels are 0.5 to 3-4 parts per billion (ppb) which is minuscule compared to the "safe" level for occupational exposure (40 hours a week for 40 years) which is 5000 ppb.
On the other hand The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) revealed polonium 210 is yet another pollutant from leaded petrol, (along with dioxin: mentioned among the plethora of information on this matter in LEAD Action News Vol 2 No 4 Spring 1994). Polonium 210 "derives from an unstable form of lead in petrol and naturally occurring radon gas," and "could be linked to leukaemia, brain tumours and kidney cancer in children." With over 1000 carcinogens in vehicle exhausts, its no wonder that the issue of the siting of new childcare centres on busy roads is creating so much controversy.
I cannot overlook the fact that I have been credited in a letter to the editor of the SMH with being the driving force in the achievement of the reduction in Sydney's air lead levels (and presumably the air lead levels in other Australian cities) of 60% in the year to November 1994 (see Annual Report on page 14). I do not take this compliment lightly, rather I see that it places a grave responsibility on us to ensure that the toxic load on children, adults, and the whole environment, is reduced, not increased, due to The LEAD Group's work. And so it shall be!
In the next issue we'll look into the responsibilities of paint contractors. Can they simply sand off the old paint and leave you with a lead contaminated site or are there regulations to protect residents? We'll report on homes with 40 times the accept-able contamination level and a school with 160 times the acceptable contamination level. Plus more on how ultra-fine particles in the air can kill.
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Updated 14 November 2012