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  QUESTION: How can a fishing sinker business in our industrial estate be made safe? 18 Dec 2006, New South Wales Australia

We're a small business located in an industrial estate, we share a large building with three other businesses one of which is a lead sinker manufacturer. We constantly have smoke in our shed and office and on occasion have had to send employees home due to the thick taste hanging in the air. I am concerned not only about my employees but also my children who also are in the building on occasion. I have contacted the EPA and they have told me that I should contact my local council. I have but things are moving slow. What are the possible health issues and who should I contact. How can they make their business safe?
ANSWER: 18 Dec 2006

Dear James,
It was good to talk to you on the phone this morning just before I had a chance to answer your email. If the flue that takes the fumes away from the sinker manufacturing shed is only 10 metres away from your workplace and sometimes billows smoke, and the scrap lead that goes into the process is mainly from roofs of buildings and is sometimes painted with old paint or covered in silicon sealant, then the very best way to determine potential health risks from breathing the fumes is blood lead testing for everyone who has been exposed.
It is particularly critical to test your 9 month old daughter and your two year old child as their brains are still developing and their hand-to-mouth activity (and to a lesser extent their bare feet on the dusty premises when they visit on the way home from the beach) puts them at particular risk of getting lead into them. Children absorb 50% of the lead that gets into their gut, compared with adults who may only absorb 10-15%.
You will see from the research included in our Info Pack 56 on the dangers of a blood lead level above 2 micrograms per decilitre (g/dL) that adults are also at risk from blood lead levels well below the World Health Organisation recommended level to be below 10 g/dL. When lead is in the form of a fume, it is absorbed 100% by both adults and children.
A blood lead level of 15 g/dL or over is a notifiable disease in NSW and the Public Health Unit will contact you to arrange a lead assessment of premises suspected of being a source of the lead in the lead poisoned person. The LEAD Group's advice, in consideration of the research included in our Info Pack 56, is that if your children's, secretary's or your own blood lead level exceeds 2 g/dL then it is worth doing everything that is do-able to bring the level down. I have also emailed you our Info Pack 10 on Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) in relation to lead so that the sinker business manager has some idea of where to start on carrying out his responsibilities in relation to himself, his staff and members of the public impacted by the fumes.
You have every right to phone 131050 to request an Inspector from WorkCover come to the premises to determine how to make these workplaces compliant with the OH&S Consolidated Regulations.
I cannot stress how vital it is that all concerned book in today with their GPs to organise blood lead level testing as soon as possible but definitely before any Christmas close-down period. Blood lead levels normally begin to fall as soon as the exposure ceases so the only way to determine the true extent of exposure is immediate blood lead testing. Your doctor can mark the blood samples URGENT in order to obtain results before Christmas. Very high lead levels (around 45 g/dL for children and 70 g/dL for adults) are treatable in hospital by chelation therapy but due to the recent tide of research, some doctors will treat much lower blood lead levels and chelation at lower levels does not require hospitalisation. Doctors who have been trained to carry out chelation therapy by ACNEM (Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine) in Australia are listed on www.acnem.org (see "Referrals" in post code order within each state).
All the best and please don't hesitate to phone or email again with any questions that arise.
Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien
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