LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News vol 5 no 2  1997 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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Study Reveals Lead Risk to Broken Hill Babies

By Mark Riley, as printed in the Sydney Morning Herald, 8/4/97
Reprinted with kind permission.

Blood lead levels remain dangerously high among children in Broken Hill three years after a $13 million Health Department Program began to tackle the problem a new report has found.

The Broken Hill Environmental Lead Centre Study has found that blood lead levels are rising much faster in babies in the first months of life than experts had believed.

Lead poisoning has been blamed for low IQ levels among some of the area’s children and in extreme cases, is suspected of causing bowel and bladder damage.

The report found that blood lead levels were between 15 and 20 per cent higher in newborn babies in Broken Hill than those in the world’s largest lead-smelting city Trail in Canada.

The Study, conducted over the past year, found the levels almost trebled in the first six months of Broken Hill infants’ lives - a far greater rate of increase than previously, research had suggested.

Earlier reports had suggested the levels would not climb until the infants had reached crawling and walking age and were exposed to greater sources of lead outside their homes.

A spokesman for the Health Dept said last night: "The long term effects of exposure to high lead levels are of the greatest concern to the department. But we are confident that our program is having a positive effect and a real impact on the health of those children."

The former coalition Government allocated $3m in 1994 to help clean up the known sources of lead contamination in the mining city and to produce new research, such as the Environmental Lead Centre report.

The Minister for Health Dr Refshauge last year allocated a further $10 million to be spent over the next five years.

The Health Department spokesman said the program had already produced positive results in reducing the risk of lead exposure for young children. However a large proportion of houses in the city have walls still covered in lead based paint.

Part of the funding is being spent stripping the paints and replacing them with water-based products. The level of lead dust that has been emitted from the city’s mining industries over the past few decades remains another serious problem.

The Environmental Lead Centre was established to provide resources to fight contamination, including the development of education programs and the distribution of information on the most effective ways to clean lead from houses.

A study in 1993 found that 75 percent of preschool children in Broken Hill had unsafe levels of lead in their blood.

The report recommended that the level of lead contamination in some homes was so high that the families should be relocated. At least four children were found to have blood lead levels almost three times higher than the recommended safe level.

The children had lead concentrations above 60 micrograms per 100 millilitres of blood [60 g/dL] and had to have chemical treatment to remove the lead from their systems.


Most NSW taxpayers don’t even know that they are paying $13 mil to "fix" Broken Hill. If the NSW government were to recoup this loss by taxing the production of lead and the cost were passed on to consumers of lead, people could make a real choice about how "cheap" lead is. Elizabeth O’Brien, CLAS

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