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QUESTION: There's organic lead in bullets too & no one knows the blood lead level of someone off the street in Australia 16/7/10 Eight Mile Plains, Queensland

Hi there, Firstly, may I offer my congratulations and my thanks for the wonderful resource you offer.  I suffered from fibromyalgia for a decade and am making a good recovery with antibacterial, antiviral and detoxification therapy (including lead detoxification - I have very elevated lead).  I have just started art school in an old warehouse which was previously used for bullet manufacturing and other lead related activities.  One of the art teachers has told me that "According to the previous tenant, they did cut and melt lead there and so produced lead dust, but because of this, they were obliged to get the lead levels of their ten employees checked every six months.  In the 19 years that he was there, there was only ever one guy with elevated lead levels (everyone else had levels equivalent to someone off the street). Apparently they vacuumed 3 times a week etc, and hosed out when they left last year.  We used a pressure cleaner on the floors when we first moved in, and of course the walls have been washed and painted white up fairly high.  Of course there is not any new dust being produced so the only place that there should be any significant amount of lead dust left is on the top surfaces of rafters, which were not hosed due to wiring.

He thought that we should not be concerned about lead exposure, because compared to the guys working there who were tested, our exposure would be low.  From what I have read, inorganic lead (like what they used there at the studio making sinkers etc) is far less toxic than organic lead (eg found in leaded petrol) because the organic lead is more more soluble in lipids and tissues."

Notwithstanding this, I am keen to get samples taken from places in an around the building, not just for my sake, but for the sake of the other students.

Thanks & best wishes, Fiona

ANSWER: Jul 17 2010

Dear Fiona,

Thanks for your kind comments about our website.

I will send you another email regarding the DIY-sampling kit you have purchased but I wanted to respond first to the interesting comments you have sent. I'm sorry to hear about your fibromyalgia but happy to hear that you are recovering. I trust you will be protecting yourself from lead and other heavy metals in your art materials, preferably by substituting non-toxic materials.

Since there has never been a survey of adult blood lead levels in Australia, anyone who tells you that lead workers had blood lead levels "equivalent to someone off the street", is either making it up, OR, passing on or paraphrasing (and changing the meaning of )something that a doctor made up or said, OR, comparing workers' blood lead levels to a very very very small sample of people they know who do not work with lead but have had their blood lead level tested. I know it's a very very very small sample size because it's extremely rare for doctors to order or patients to request blood lead testing, when they don't work with lead.

It's very possible that what the previous tenant meant to say was that only one worker ever recorded a blood lead level above the occupational exposure level at which a worker must be removed from the lead process / lead risk job. Unfortunately, this level is set at the ridiculously high level of 50 micrograms per decilitre. OH&S regulations in more advanced countries are making that level more and more stringent and the current recommendation from US researchers is that it be brought down to 10 micrograms per decilitre (in line with the Australian guideline since 1993 for non-occupationally exposed adults). However, because The LEAD Group keeps apprised of research into the health effects of lead, and because we don't find it reasonable to treat workers as second class citizens, we recommend that everyone have a blood lead level less than 2 micrograms per decilitre. You might want to print-out our factsheet for your doctor, from Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 and below 10 μg/dL to both adults and children.

Further, the report of only one elevated lead exposure case out of 10 bullet-manufacturing staff tested every 6 mths over 19 years is spurious because bullet manufacturing likely exposes workers to both inorganic and organic lead. Lead styphnate and other organic lead compounds are commonly used as the primer in bullets (that is, the explosive inside the bullet that forces the bullet out of the barrel). When workers are exposed to organic lead, they should be having regular urine lead testing, not just blood lead testing (which is for the inorganic lead exposure).

Vacuum filters have improved drastically over the last two decades but vacuuming is nevertheless not the recommended method for dealing with lead dust contamination, and nor is hosing which adds lead to the soil outside or to stormwater. Engineering controls on work processes which prevent the escape of lead dust or fumes in the first place are what is recommended (if substitutes for lead can't be used, which is the first order recommendation in the Hierarchy of Controls for workplace exposures).

All in all I think you are very wise to be testing the dust (I recommend dust wipe testing on food preparation areas, window sills or floors) for the sake of yourself and the other students, and to also be testing your blood lead level and your urine lead level (hair lead test results are not notifiable and therefore don't achieve government assistance in assessing where your lead is coming from) and, especially if your results are high, recommending the same to the other students.

I'll be very interested to hear back from you about any results.

All the best

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

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