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Blood lead levels in children have fallen, but vigilance is still needed

Mark P Taylor and Bruce P Lanphear
Med J Aust 2020; 212 (4): . || doi: 10.5694/mja2.50495
Published online: 2 March 2020

Ongoing population‐level strategies are needed to further reduce lead exposure

The largest survey of blood lead levels in children in Australia outside high risk mining and smelting communities since the phasing out of leaded petrol was undertaken as part of the Barwon Infant Study in Victoria. As reported in this issue of the MJA,1 the investigators found that blood lead concentrations in children were considerably lower (geometric mean, 0.95 μg/dL) than those measured in the last major survey of Australian children, more than 25 years ago (geometric mean, 5.05 μg/dL).2 Blood lead levels have declined dramatically over the past 50 years,3,4 and Symeonides and colleagues have found that levels in children continue to fall. Nevertheless, they are still about 60 times higher than in pre‐industrial humans (0.016 μg/dL),5 and health agencies have declared that there is no safe level of lead for children.6,7

  • Mark P Taylor1
  • Bruce P Lanphear2

  • 1 Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW
  • 2 Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada

Correspondence: mark.taylor@mq.edu.au

Competing interests:

Mark Patrick Taylor is affiliated with the Broken Hill Lead Reference Group, The LEAD Group (Australia), and the Broken Hill Environmental Lead Program of the NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He has received funding from the Broken Hill Environmental Lead Program for lead‐related research; Australian federal government Citizen Science grants for the project, “Citizen insights to the composition and risks of household dust” (CSG55984); from the Australian Research Council (ARC) for perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS)‐related research (SR180100021), an ARC Special Research Initiative Collaboration Agreement; an ARC Linkage grant (with Rio Tinto) for “Improved control of dioxin emissions during iron ore sintering”; and from the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (Victoria) for a clinical trial of PFAS removal from firefighters by phlebotomy. Mark Patrick Taylor has also prepared commissioned reports and provided expert advice on environmental contamination and human health for a range of bodies, including the Australian Building Codes Board (lead in plumbing fittings and materials), lawyers, governments, union agencies, and private companies. He has also received funding from Macquarie University for sabbatical research and major equipment purchases. Bruce Lanphear serves as an expert witness in plaintiff cases of childhood lead poisoning in Milwaukee (WI) and Flint (MI) in the United States, but receives no personal compensation.

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