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Media Release Friday, 7 June 2002

Global Dimensions of Lead Hit Home in Australia,
the World's Largest Lead Producer

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Australia's leading lead campaigner, Elizabeth O'Brien yesterday returned home from speaking at the 4th international lead poisoning prevention conference in Washington DC with a renewed hope that governments and lead industry in the world's largest lead producing country must listen and respond to the needs of Australian children and people around the world who are being poisoned by the lead we export. Australia exported 672,000 tonnes of lead worth A$ 637m in FY 2000 - 2001.

The conference, Global Dimensions of Lead run by the National Safety Council of the USA, had speakers including Dr Abraham George and Prof Thuppil Venkatesh from India where 50% of 32,000 people so far blood lead tested have been found to be poisoned (higher than 10 micrograms of lead per decilitre (g/dL) of blood). Among lead acid battery recyclers, the rate was 90% of children poisoned. While it is true that up to one third of Australian-produced lead acid batteries in past years have escaped our poor collection and recycling systems and ended up in developing countries being recycled (often by children in backyards) - it is clear that Australian lead has contributed to India's silent epidemic of lead poisoning. And India only knows about its problems because businessman Dr George put his own money into the blood testing campaign and setting up of a national centre.

"I call on the state and federal governments of Australia, and our major lead industries or philanthropists, to fund the work of The LEAD Group in Australia, that is essential to coordinate the efforts of communities and especially parents of lead poisoned children, to overcome and manage this menace" said O'Brien, the National Coordinator of The LEAD Group and Manager of the Global Lead Advice and Support Service (GLASS).

At the Washington conference, Russian researcher Dr Anna Orlova called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to coordinate global surveillance of lead poisoning so that we do not remain in the current state of simply not knowing how many millions or billions of people are lead poisoned worldwide. She also asked the lead industry body, the International Lead Management Centre, to fund community action in all lead smelting and mining towns. Dr James Rochow, US environmental attorney who has campaigned since 1992 for the global phase out of leaded petrol (coordinated by his non-government organisation (NGO) - the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning) called on all national governments to identify remaining sources of lead poisoning and write national plans to eliminate them, coordinated by regional bodies including government, industry and NGO representatives.

In the US national lead conference that overlapped and followed the international lead conference, Dr Bruce Lanphear and Dr John Rosen called on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to redefine lead poisoning at a yet lower level of >5 micrograms per decilitre (g/dL), to take into account the findings of researchers that lead impacts negatively on IQ, reading and maths abilities and a range of educational and social outcomes at levels as low as 2.5 g/dL. Lanphear found that there was an 11.1 point reduction in IQ for the initial 10 microgram per deciliter increase in blood lead [from zero]. The two leading US lead researchers cited the work of Rick Nevin - "Research Links Childhood Lead Exposure to Changes in Violent Crime Rates Throughout the 20th Century" [see] noting that the phase-out of leaded petrol in the US has enabled a 90% drop in the number of lead poisoned children (greater than the current CDC level of 10 g/dL). They estimate that in the age range of 6-16 years alone, there are a further 13-16 million US children [and presumably billions worldwide] who are unacceptably being affected by lead because their blood lead level is greater than 5 g/dL.

Attendees at the US national lead conference discussed seemingly endless hundreds of millions of US dollars of government funding that is being granted to deal with the major remaining issue of removing or managing the estimated 3.3 million tonnes of lead that currently sits in the paint on US houses. Elizabeth O'Brien could only report that, in Australia, A$15,000 has been assigned annually by Environment Australia and nothing at all from health or consumer agencies, to fund the Lead Advisory Service Australia (run by The LEAD Group) and that even this paltry amount of expenditure on all non-mining and smelting lead education in Australia is due to cease at the end of June 2002.

At home in Australia, Elizabeth O'Brien returned to the news that The LEAD Group will need to write a third funding proposal to the enHealth Council to get all state and federal health departments to consider again whether to give a tiny proportion of the income that Australian governments generate from our massive lead production and export, back to the community to help prevent themselves and their children being poisoned by the lead that's already out there and the lead that's being added daily. The work of the Lead Advisory Service Australia (LASA) continues unabated, years after governments declared there was no more lead problem because air lead levels had fallen. LASA annually receives 4,000 to 5,500 calls (by freecall 1800 626 086) and email (via a form on from people who need information and referrals mainly for primary prevention of lead poisoning. The LEAD Group does a stunning job of providing the right information at the right time to ensure lead is not released into the environment through unsafe renovation and demolition practices or through a range of hobbies and occupations utilising lead.

"The LEAD Group's overseas information and referral service has been named the Global Lead Advice and Support Service since the number of emails from overseas has exceeded a thousand calls, sourced from 42 countries. The problem of lead is global and our governments and the lead industry must find the will to support the work of the few dedicated individuals at The LEAD Group who really know how to help people both before and after they are lead poisoned," said O'Brien. "I call on the enHealth Council and Environment Australia to each dedicate $150,000 annually to the Lead Advisory Service Australia, to partially honour Australia's 1996 agreement at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) concerning the Declaration on Risk Reduction for Lead in which member countries agreed to "develop, implement, monitor, and share information about actions that will reduce human exposure to lead" and that "the success of the Ministerial Declaration is contingent on the amount of publicity and support it receives."

CONTACT: Elizabeth O'Brien ph +61 2 9716 0014 ###

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Last Updated 08 March 2012
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