Quick blood lead level results for young children

Parents will soon be able to get young children’s lead levels tested at primary health care providers and at the North West Hospital and Health Service (NWHHS), thanks to funding for lead testing machines.

The Office of the Chief Medical Officer has funded four machines, valued at approximately $4,000 each. Kerri O’Connor, NWHHS Nurse Unit Manager for Maternal Child and Youth Health, says the new testing method is much quicker and less invasive than a venous blood test.

“The point of care finger prick test with these machines will only take a few minutes, and the results will be available in 15 minutes. We are aiming to offer the test at the same time as giving immunisations – at age 6 months, 12 months, 18 months and 3 ½ years, but children can still be tested up to five years in age,” Ms O’Connor said.

The four machines will be used by Gidgee Healing, Sonic Health Plus- Mount Isa GP Super Clinic, and the NWHHS Child Health Services and Paediatric Outpatients. The lead level testing will be available at the beginning of October.

A year’s funding has also been granted for the test strips, which cost $15 for each patient. Ms O’Connor said the tests are reliable and have been used in Broken Hill for the past 20 years. She is hoping it will increase the amount of blood testing for lead in young children. “There has been a significant drop in children being tested for blood lead levels; we have very low testing rates at the moment.

“We want parents to get their children tested, if the lead level results are high, we refer the patient to a GP, and we look at their environment.

“We live in a lead-rich environment, and kids eat dirt – that’s just a fact of life – but there are changes to the environment that can be made, such as damping down dirt and dust in the yards, ensuring grass is grown to cover the dirt, and carrying out the measures advocated by The Lead Alliance: healthy eating, washing hands before eating and after handling pets, keeping pets outside, wet wiping surfaces in the home.”

Ms O’Connor said The Lead Alliance would be producing a poster about the new blood lead testing machines.

The Chair of The Lead Alliance, Robbie Katter, said the Alliance was thrilled to have the extra testing available in Mount Isa.

“We’ll be able to get more children tested, the test is not as invasive as the venous testing, and the results are immediately available.

“In the meantime it’s still very important for families to keep sticking to those positive messages such as the wet wipe message: wiping down all household surfaces regularly with a wet cloth and wet mopping hard floors; washing hands before eating, after playing outside and after handling pets.

“The eat well message is to reinforce the fact that good nutrition reduces the absorption of lead from the stomach into the blood stream, especially important with children,” Mr Katter said.


For further information contact:
Liz MacIntyre
Acting Media and Communications Officer
North West Hospital and Health Service
Phone: 0747640215 or 0437 695 799

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Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young: In response to Mark Taylor research linking lead exposure and criminality.

The National Health and Medical Research Council has identified that at blood lead levels below 10 micrograms per decilitre (μg/dL), there is insufficient evidence about links between lead exposure and behavioural issues.

Many other contributing factors would influence criminal behaviour, such as socioeconomic status, education, parenting style and diet.

Conclusions cannot be drawn from studies reporting statistical associations between exposure to chemicals and broad social outcomes without a credible critical mass of scientific studies to support the claim and rule out other explanations.

The management of the health impacts of environmental lead in Mount Isa has been a priority for the state government.

Blood lead levels greater than 10 μg/dL can have harmful effects on many organs and bodily functions.

At blood lead levels between 10 μg/dL and 60 μg/dL, effects such as increased blood pressure, abnormally low haemoglobin, abnormal kidney function, long-term kidney damage and abnormal brain functions have been observed.

A wide range of initiatives have been developed to promote living safely in a lead environment such as Mount Isa. These include greening Mount Isa, undertaking promotional activities at local primary and childcare centres/kindergarten and development of guidance material.

Information regarding the impact to health from exposure to lead, how exposure occurs, precautionary actions and personal exposure surveillance options are readily available and activity promoted in the Mount Isa community.

The Living With Lead Alliance was established in 2008 to undertake initiatives and information programs relating to lead and lead exposure within the Mount Isa community. The Mount Isa Lead Health Management Committee – chaired by myself as Chief Health Officer – was established in 2012 to provide additional guidance, oversight and strategic
direction to the management of lead health risks in Mount Isa.

A free voluntary blood lead level testing program has been in place in Mount Isa through QML laboratories since 2010. A blood lead level testing program for children under five also runs at Mount Isa Hospital.

The results of the various testing programs in 2015 indicate a steady reduction in average blood lead levels recorded in tested children under five since extensive community surveys undertaken in 2006–2007 and again in 2010.

These results indicate the intervention and information strategies we have put in place over the years are having some effect and we will continue building on these.

Furthermore, there have been no recorded cases of acute lead toxicity in children for more than 20 years.

In addition, from 1 January, Queensland’s mandatory blood lead notification level has been reduced from 10 μg/dL to 5 μg/dL.

This reduction was recommended last year by the National Health and Medical Research Council and accepted by the Queensland Government.


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The Living with Lead Alliance response to ‘Misled about lead: assessment of online public health education material from Australia’s lead mining and smelting towns’, by Donna Green and Marianne Sullivan

The following statement may be attributed to Mr Robert Katter, Member for Mount Isa and Chair of the Living with Lead Alliance.

Since 2008, the Living with Lead Alliance (the Alliance) has been implementing a long-term strategy to promote the successful coexistence of community and industry at Mount Isa.

Our objectives have been two-fold: both to raise awareness about the risks and potential health effects of lead in children and adults and inform the community about best-practice prevention of lead exposure.

The Alliance is committed to delivering this information to the community as broadly as possible and in a variety of ways to reach the widest possible audience.

Over the years we have delivered a number of key initiatives in the areas of school education programs, annual expert seminars, broad advertising campaigns, backyard improvement programs, and local partnerships to deliver nutritional education and support.

For instance, each year, the Alliance brings leading Australian toxicologist and emergency physician Dr Mark Little to Mount Isa to deliver seminars to the community and playgroups.

Dr Little discusses the toxic effects of lead to the body, the risk of brain damage to babies and children and the potential health impacts on adults.

He also discusses the best way to reduce the risk of elevated blood lead levels and his presentation is available on our website (PDF).

In 2016, the alliance and Dr Little will be delivering information and talks to all day care centres and kindergartens in Mount Isa.

In 2016, the alliance and Dr Little will be delivering information and talks to all day care centres and kindergartens in Mount Isa.

I encourage all parents to attend and become more informed on the issue of lead within our community.

In October 2015, Townsville Public Health Unit Director Dr Steven Donohue released data detailing the results of blood lead level testing of Mount Isa children.

The results have shown that, since 2006, average blood lead levels in tested Mount Isa children under the age of five have been falling gradually.

The data also showed the number of children under five that are being tested for blood lead levels in Mount Isa has been increasing – especially since the introduction of opportunistic testing at Mount Isa Hospital in August 2014.

I believe the work of the Living with Lead Alliance over the past few years, including the range and quality of information we deliver to Mount Isa residents, has contributed both to the gradual reduction in blood lead levels in tested children and the increase in the number of children tested.

This is a positive result for the Alliance and for the Mount Isa community. Importantly, we remain committed to helping promote this downward trend.

The Alliance is guided by the Mount Isa Lead Health Management Committee and the National Health and Medical Research Council as to the information we deliver to the community.

We will review any opportunities identified in the Green-Sullivan study for the way in which we inform the Mount Isa community on the risks of elevated lead levels in children, pregnant women and families.

It is essential that all residents, parents and children are aware of how to minimise the risk by implementing the alliance’s key messages: Wet wipe, wash and eat well.

Department of Health – Lead research statement, 14 January 2016 (PDF)

Advice for Mount Isa residents on living safely with lead from the Living with Lead Alliance

The Living with Lead Alliance would like to inform the community about how to live safely with lead during the current drought conditions.

It is essential that we all work together to ensure that we reduce the possible risk of elevated blood lead levels in our children and be vigilant in reducing lead dust in our homes.

Due to the current dry conditions, it is difficult to keep water up to grassed areas and many lawns are now just bare soil. The Alliance recommends that you keep very young children and crawling babies away from these areas as much as possible. It is essential that you and your children wash their hands regularly during the day after playing outside, petting animals and especially before eating. To reduce bare soil areas in your yard you can use mulch and pavers in and around a child’s play area. Mulch will also help keep water evaporation to a minimum.

There has been a lot of wind which is stirring up dust. To reduce dust in the home, keep windows closed as much as possible, regularly wet wash and wipe worktops and benches, especially food preparation areas, wet mop hard floor surfaces regularly. Remember to rinse the cloth and mop during the cleaning process.

Keep yard shoes and work boots outside to reduce the amount of dust you bring into the home. Try and keep dogs outside, ensure they have access to shade and drinking water, wash and groom them regularly.

Pin a baby’s dummy to the baby’s clothing to prevent it falling on the floor and picking up dust. Crawling babies tend to put things into their mouths, so try to keep toys and floors dust free.

Breast-feeding mums need to ensure that their blood lead levels are as low as possible as lead can be transferred to a baby through breast milk.

Free blood lead testing is available at QML Pathology
13a Isa Street, Monday to Friday 7.30am to 2pm, no appointment necessary.

All residents that would like further information or have any concerns, FREE CALL 1800 457 547.