LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News Volume 7 No 4, 2000, 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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Letters

Scuba Diving Weights Made at Home

FIRST EMAIL FROM SCUBA DIVER:

Dear Elizabeth,

I've just read your fact sheet on lead sources, and one other occurred to me that you seem to have missed: lead weights for scuba divers. Modern weight belts are either based on pockets of lead shot which are more comfortable (they distribute the weight more evenly around the diver's waist) and keeps the lead out of contact with wetsuit or (shudder) skin; or epoxy coated lead, which minimises dermal contact.

However most, if not all older weight belts are simply 500 or 1000 g slotted chunks of lead threaded onto a nylon belt. The manufacture and handling of such may constitute a significant exposure route for anyone hand-ling them. Further, simple moulds used to be available, enabling divers on a budget with a DIY [do-it-yourself] flair to cast their own weights from scrap lead (I used to do this when I was much younger, using an old vacuum cleaner to blow air into a charcoal-fired brick furnace to melt the lead in an old pot. I hate to think how much lead vapour I inhaled during this process. The things we do as teenagers, eh? Keep up the excellent work.

RESPONSE FROM THE LEAD GROUP:

Thanks for your feedback on the list of sources of lead - I guess you were looking at our website (www.lead.org.au/) where we have a fact sheet that is called the "Main Sources of Lead". You’ll find a more complete list of sources in the newsletter section of the website (in Lead Advisory Service News – "Sources of Lead") . Of course, we are regularly advised of new sources what with industry being out there constantly thinking up ways to get rid of, what is after-all, a by-product of copper, zinc and silver mining.

Thanks for your account of diving weights making. Any time is a good time to have a blood lead test - just ask your doctor - and that would at least tell you how much lead is in your blood at the moment. The current blood lead level is a measure of both current absorption of lead from your last 2-3 months of lead exposure, plus lead that is coming out of your bones from your whole of life stores. It is possible that your teenage lead exposure could be showing up in your current blood lead level. You can call us with the blood result (both the number and the unit) for an interpretation.

Regards, Elizabeth O'Brien, National Coordinator

SECOND EMAIL FROM SAME DIVER:

Elizabeth,

Current lead levels could be kind of interesting, as a number of my pastimes have involved lead exposure at varying levels, and I have lived in the inner city for the majority of my life. Hmm, I'll let you know when the results come in.

Do Regulations Protect Us from Lead?

20 September 1999

The Assistant Secretary
Air and Water Quality Branch
Environment Australia
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to ask about regulations regarding lead in various products.

There has been a lot of publicity in recent years about the dangers of lead exposure to children. My medical encyclopaedia at home states that even low levels of exposure to lead may affect children’s intellectual development. In recognition of this, lead in paint has been reduced, and lead in petrol is being phased out. However, there still seem to be many other products on the market, which still have lead in them. For example:

(a) Lead in PVC window and sliding glass door seals. I had chalking paint on my aluminium window frames and had this tested for lead to make sure it wasn’t a health hazard. It transpired that there wasn’t any lead in the paint, but that there was an extremely high amount of lead shedding off the window and sliding glass door seals (there is an Australian standard recommending that the amount of lead dust per square metre should be no more than 1,000 micrograms per square metre-the amount of lead dust per square metre for the PVC seals was 70,000 micrograms!)

I contacted Boral Windows, who had taken over Dowell, which is the brand of windows in my house. I was told that lead was and is routinely added to the PVC seals as a UV stabiliser (to stop the sun perishing the product). The lead content would have varied, because the PVC product was obtained from a variety of sources, but it was common in those days (my house was built in 1976) for the PVC to have a lead content of around 7%. (By 1976 the lead content in paint had already been severely reduced, so why was it still allowed in other products used in houses?) The lead content these days might often be about 1%, but this is not because of Government regulations, it is simply because of the cost of the lead additive. Boral Windows could not find any Government regulations about the amount of lead that could be put into such products.

The seals apparently become ‘embrittled’ over time, and so when they are touched or wiped, tiny particles are shed, including the lead in them.

I have two young children who are constantly touching the window and sliding glass door frames and seals with their fingers and then putting their hands in their mouths, and I am horrified that their health and intellectual development may be affected because companies have been allowed to make or use products which result in such dangerous levels of lead contamination. I am now also concerned about other ‘rubber’ seal products, such as fridge, dishwasher, oven, washing machine and shower screen seals, and car window and door seals.

(b) Other PVC products. I understand that lead is also used in a number of other PVC products. However, it is very difficult to know whether particular products such as toys are made out of PVC or some other type of plastic. PVC is so widely used that it is impossible to avoid it.

(c) Pewter and other kitchen items.

My husband had a lot of old pewter mugs which he used for drinking Coke. I recently found out that pewter is made of tin and lead. The Lead Advisory Service advised that this is a problem if acidic liquids are drunk from or stored in them. Coke is very acidic, and my husband used to drink enormous quantities of it from these mugs. Often he would leave Coke sitting in a mug for several hours and then come back and drink it. He would therefore have been at risk of lead ingestion. I rang up some pewter manufacturers and it seems that although Selangor no longer uses lead in pewter, there is no guarantee with other products.

I understand there are similar dangers with lead glass crystal and lead glazed oven pottery. Why is such a dangerous substance as lead allowed to be put in items that come into contact with food?

(d) Hobby items

I was staying with my sister, and my little boy spent a lot of time looking at and touching a terrarium. I realised later that it was made with lead (ie lead lighting), and rang up the Lead Advisory Service, who advised that this was of concern if the lead was chalking or oxidising, (which it was) or if it came into contact with saliva or an acidic product such as vinegar, which would act to ‘dissolve’ the lead. Other lead lighting products which are used in windows, or light shades or other hobby lead lighting products would also be of concern as they age and deteriorate or come into contact with saliva or acidic products.

I was at a model train exhibition at Malkara Special School. I was told that all the accessories (landmarks, scenery, signals, posts) etc were made with lead. Children attending the exhibition were touching these items, and a person making one of these items out of lead for demonstration purposes was using a child’s desk, which would have been used by the child the next day.

Sinkers for fishing are made of lead. Children often accompany parents fishing, or fish themselves as they grow older, and will handle the sinkers (or put them in their mouths when they are younger).

Why do we allow such a dangerous product as lead to be used in hobbies?

(e) Candles. I have recently been informed that lead has even been put into such unlikely items as the wicks of candles and that the fumes when such candles were burnt would have a serious effect on young children. I understand that NSW has recently introduced regulations banning the sale of these, but I don’t know if other States have.

I would like you to answer the following questions:

  1. What regulations are there about the production, import, sale or usage of products containing lead?

  2. Are there any regulations about the products I have mentioned above?

  3. If not, why not?

  4. Will there be any new regulations introduced as a result of the concerns I have expressed?

  5. What other products are there on the market containing lead?

  6. At the very least, why aren’t products containing lead marked with a warning, as is the case with poisons?

  7. I am extremely concerned about the health of my children in relation to the high levels of lead shedding from my window and sliding door frames. I feel very strongly that action should be taken against those responsible for allowing known hazardous products to be used in this way. Who is responsible in this situation - the company that produced the item, the company that used the item, or the Government that failed to regulate against the use of the hazardous substance?

  8. What consumer rights do I have in this situation?

I would appreciate your prompt and comprehensive response on these matters.

Thank you for your assistance.

Yours faithfully

[Name and address provided]
Kambah ACT 2902

[No adequate reply was made to the above letter]

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