Any exposure ‘risks health’
Wednesday, 4th March, 2015
By Erica Visser
Exposure to even miniscule amounts of lead had put residents at risk of a raft of side-effects including a drop in IQ, behavioural disorders, heart disease and even dementia.
That was the message sent home by Dr Bruce Lanphear, a renowned professor at Canada’s Simon Fraser University, who made a timely visit to Broken Hill yesterday.
Dr Lanphear said that freshly-announced state government funding to combat alarming child lead levels had come “too late” from a system that had failed locals.
However, he added that the $30 million package provided hope in a community where it was obvious something needed to be done.
“It’s a great start and it’s certainly a fairly sizeable amount - particularly if industry can take on some of their own costs to remediate or reduce exposures,” Dr Lanphear told local media.
“...It’s a great opportunity and people should be excited about that. Maybe too late, but at least there’s hope.”
The worrying research findings, predominantly based on communities within the United States, were applicable to any lead-affected place throughout the world, Dr Lanphear claimed.
“(The research found) fairly sizeable IQ defects, reductions in learning abilities at the lowest levels, an increase in ADHD and other acting out type behaviours ... and even violent behaviours,” he said.
“There’s even evidence that for adults lead exposure is a risk factor for the development of dementia including Alzheimer’s.
“So the brain is clearly a primary target organ for lead but we also know that the cardiovascular system; heart disease, hypertension, chronic kidney disease, are all well established outcomes of lead exposure.”
In order to spend the funding wisely, the city needed to first prioritise top sources of lead contamination, such as mining operations, followed by old housing.
“There’s going to be some legacy work that needs to be done; soil abatement, covering up of old dirt, maybe excavating it from yards.
“...It would be very reasonable and strategic to say let’s get some baseline levels where we measure dust, paint inside some homes and let’s start monitoring some of the windblown dust more carefully but that should not prevent taking action.”
Dr Lanphear said the issue of lead poisoning had historically been ignored by governments despite overwhelming evidence it was preventable.
“We’ve known for a long time that lead is toxic. This was a pandemic that was totally preventable so from that perspective it’s really quite troubling.
“We know in countries like the US each year lead exposure costs $50 billion a year, in low to middle income countries it’s almost a trillion dollars each year.
“But we also know we can flip it the other way and say what’s the benefit to society if we made investments to reduce exposure?
“The best estimate right now for every dollar we invest we can benefit as a society somewhere between $17 up to $220.
“That cost benefit ratio is as good or better than childhood vaccines, which has long been touted as the single most cost-beneficial public health and medical intervention in developed countries like Australia.”