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7 News

Dangers in our soil

March 5, 2013, 6:18 pm Laura Sparkes Today Tonight

The health of as many as 100,000 children under the age of five is under threat from lead pollution, linked to intellectual and behavioural problems.


Read more about

Macquarie University

Professor Mark Taylor

Mark P. Taylor

Professor Taylor

Children love playing in the dirt, but their games can have dangerous consequences.

The legacy of leaded petrol has put our most vulnerable at risk, with tests proving just how toxic Australian backyards can be.

Professor Mark Taylor is an environmental scientist at Macquarie University, and he's deeply worried.

"There's a risk that children living in leaded areas will lose IQ points, will have behavioural problems, attention problems - they have lifelong impacts," Professor Taylor said.

"People have described it as a silent epidemic."

Lead in petrol was phased out more than ten years ago, after fuelling cars since the 1920s. But Professor Taylor says it's by no means disappeared.

More stories from reporter Laura Sparkes


Your soil might be lead-contaminated if it is now or was once surrounding or nearby:

  • A pre-1997 painted residential building or pre-2010 painted industrial building, and the paint has deteriorated or been dry-scraped, heat-gunned or dry-sanded and allowed to contaminate the yard;

  • Older inner city homes - pre-2002 leaded petrol vehicle emissions emitted lead particulates to the atmosphere that accumulate in dusts, soils and ceilings;

  • A lead mine, lead smelter, lead flashing or lead acid battery, etc, manufacturing or recycling plant, or a waste dump/landfill, or tailings dam.

Actions to prevent lead exposure from lead-contaminated soil:

If you are concerned, then before buying or renting a home, and before building a vegetable garden or chicken run, get the soil tested at a NATA accredited laboratory. Do the same for pre-1997 house paint, pre-2002 ceiling dust and all rainwater tanks where present. Where your results are adverse, take measures to stop ingestion of lead-contaminated soil, vegetables, herbs, eggs, chickens, rainwater, etc;

  • Soil, water, household dust etc sample test kits and instructions are available for purchase from The LEAD Group charity.

  • If pregnant women or young children / pets are already living in the home, or if anyone is already drinking rainwater or eating home produce, and you are concerned you can ask your doctor / vet for a blood lead test.

  • National Health and Medical Research information on lead in humans is available online. NSW Government advice on managing lead exposures is also available online here - that is “Lead, Your Health & the Environment”, and following factsheets and booklets in The LEAD Group's factsheet index.

The following lead exposure prevention tips are suggested if lead is a concern in your environment:

  • Remove shoes at the door and use a commercial-quality outside door mat to reduce track-in. Feet should be wiped at least twice on the door mat.

  • Purchase a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter vacuum or safely remove pre-wetted carpets and rugs to avoid the need for vacuuming altogether if possible.

  • Vacuum rugs, mats and carpets and damp mop floors once a week (twice a week if there are toddlers in the home). Vacuum each section of carpet at least four times.

  • Do NOT vacuum hard surfaces (it redistributes dust).

  • Clean window frames, windowsills, and other surfaces weekly. Use a mop or sponge with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner or a cleaner made specifically for lead.

  • Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning dirty or dusty areas.

  • Inspect the vacuum belt and bag monthly. Change bag when it is less than full.

  • Cleaning surfaces below 1.5 metres that small children may put their mouths on, including but not limited to wall corners, doors, stairs, railings, windows, baseboards, and chair rails and parts of windows (with sills below 1.5 metres) that move or touch moving parts (once a month).

  • Keep toddlers away from remodelling areas, peeling paint, foundation soil under house eaves, and window wells.

  • Keep play areas clean. Wash bottles, pacifiers, toys, and stuffed animals regularly.

  • Lay down a clean sheet before putting a baby on a carpet.

  • Keep children clean. Ensure that children wash before they eat. Wash toddlers' hands often.

  • Protect food from settled dust by covering and/or washing.

  • When remodelling, seal off the work area and avoid tracking dust from remodelled area.

  • Cover bare soil in gardens and areas beside house with wood chips or mulch.

  • Grow grass where soil is bare, or place wood chips or mulch on bare soil.

  • Make sure children eat regular nutritious meals, since more lead is absorbed on an empty stomach. Make sure children's diets contain plenty of iron and calcium: Examples of foods high in iron are liver, fortified cereal, cooked beans, spinach, and raisins. Examples of foods high in calcium are milk, yogurt, cheese, and cooked greens.

  • Have children wash their hands after playing outside, and before meals, naps and at bedtime.

  • Regularly wash children's toys. Toys can become contaminated from household dust or exterior soil.

  • Keep pets outside. If allowed inside, brush fur outside and clean all dirt from paws.

  • Clean up paint chips immediately, with a wet cloth or wet paper towel.

  • Prevent children from playing in bare soil; if possible, provide them with sandboxes filled with clean and tested sand – available from hardware stores. If using a sandbox, parents should also cover the box when not in use.

  • Do not remove lead-based paint yourself. It is extremely hazardous.

  • If soils are contaminated, avoid growing leafy and root vegetables. Used raised garden beds with clean brought-in soil for growing food plants.

  • If soils are contaminated, wear gloves when handling soil and wash gardening clothes separately from regular wash. Avoid bringing soil into the house.

In the event that a resident has a high blood lead level, a more aggressive approach may be warranted, which may include: removing ceiling dust, removing or covering contaminated soil around the home, stabilising flaking lead-based paints, cleaning or replacing carpets, cleaning soft furnishings.

  • To permanently remove lead hazards, you must hire a certified lead "abatement" contractor. Abatement (or permanent hazard elimination) methods include removing, sealing, or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials.

  • Always hire a person with special training for correcting lead problems—someone who knows how to do this work safely and has the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly. Certified contractors will employ qualified workers and follow strict safety rules – see

Contact details

  • Professor Mark P. Taylor, Faculty of Science, Macquarie University -

  • The National Environmental Protection Council's report: Guideline on the Investigation Levels for Soil and Groundwater -

Recent papers and reports on the risk of lead exposure to children:

  • Eliminating childhood lead toxicity in Australia: a call to lower the intervention level (2012). Authors: Mark P. Taylor, Chris Winder and Bruce P. Lanphear. Medical Journal of Australia

  • Time to rethink blood lead goals to reduce risk to children's health (2012). Authors: Mark P. Taylor, Chris Winder and Bruce P. Lanphear. The Conversation -

  • The Final Human Health State of the Science Report for Lead -

  • Risk Management Strategy for Lead -

  • Public Health Statement for Lead. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry -

  • Health Effects of Low-level Lead Evaluation. National Toxicology Program -

  • Advisory Committee On Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention (ACCLPP). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -

This reporter is on Twitter at @LauraSparkes7

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The health of as many as 100,000 children under the age of five is under threat from lead pollution, linked to intellectual and behavioural problems.

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The LEAD Group Inc. Fact Sheet Index

NSW Lead Reference Centre and NSW Government Publications On this site

  1. About the Global Lead Advice and Support Service (GLASS)

  2. Main Sources of Lead

  3. How Would You Know If You or Your Child Was lead poisoned?

  4. Lead aware housekeeping

  5. Ceiling dust & lead poisoning

  6. Is your yard lead safe?

  7. Health Impacts of lead poisoning

  8. Rotary Questionnaire

  9. Lead poisoned Pets and Your Family

  10. Childhood Lead Poisoning Risk Factor Questionnaire

  11. Is Your Child Safe From Lead? - What Can You Do About Lead?

  12. Lead in Drinking Water in Australia

  13. Have We Really Resolved The Lead Issue?

  14. The Importance of the Availability of "Spot Tests" for Lead in Paint

  15. Pregnant or Planning a Pregnancy

  16. Breastfeeding and Lead

  17. Lead in breast milk

  18. Beware The Lead In Lead Lighting

  19. Renting and Lead

  20. What to do if you have too much lead in your tank water

  21. Lead Contamination in Stormwater

  22. Contamination At Shooting Ranges

  23. Banned: Leaded Wick Candles

  24. Lead, Ageing and Death

  25. Metal miniatures: How to minimise the risks of lead poisoning and contamination

  26. 7 Point Plan for the MANAGEMENT OF LEAD by Australian parents and carers

  27. Countries where Leaded Petrol is Possibly Still Sold for Road Use, As at 17th June 2011

  28. Lead Poisoning And The Brain - Cognitive Deficits And Mental Illness

  29. Facts and Firsts of Lead

  30. Lead mining royalties by state and territory

  31. Lead Mining Stewardship - Grey Lead and the Role of The LEAD Group

  32. Preventative Strategies of The LEAD Group

  33. What do Doctors need to do about Lead?

  34. A Naturopath's Experience Of Lead & People With Diagnosed Mental Illness

  35. Case File: Helping Manage Australian Lead in Petrol - How GLASS Works

  36. Glass Web & Service-Users, Experts & Volunteers, by Country; Countries with Leaded Petrol for Road Use & Worst Pollution

  37. Lead in ceiling dust

  38. Lead paint & ceiling dust management - how to do it lead-safely

  39. Esperance parliamentary inquiry follow-up factsheet: Where to from Here??

  40. Broken Hill lead miners factsheet 1893 with Note 20081015

  41. Helping a Doctor Help 35,000 Lead-Poisoned People Around the Lead Smelter at La Oroya in Peru
    Ayuda a un doctor que ayuda 35,000 personas envenenadas por plomo alrededor de la fundidora de plomo en la Oroya-Peru

  42. Fact sheet for Australian toy importers and traders

  43. Iron Nutrition & Lead Toxicity
    Informe de Acciones – Hierro y Plomo en la Nutrición

  44. Sanitarium-Are You getting Enough Iron

  45. Do-It-Yourself-Lead-Safe-Test-Kits-flyer

  46. Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result

  47. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to both adults and children

  48. Lead Exposure & Alzheimer’s Disease: Is There A Link?

  49. In CHINA - Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result

  50. Why you should have your ceiling dust removed before you take advantage of the Australian government's Energy Efficient Homes Package: Insulation Program

  51. Alperstein et al Lead Alert - A Guide For Health Professionals 1994

  52. Ceiling Dust WorkCover Guide Lee Schreiber Final Nov 1999

  53. What can I do about climate change AND lead?

  54. The Need for Expert Clinical Assessments in Diagnosis Of Heavy Metal Poisoning

  55. Why you should have your ceiling dust removed before you have insulation installed

  56. Thirty Thought-Starters on Ceiling Void Dust in Homes

  57. Pectin: Panacea for both lead poisoning and lead contamination

  58. Nutrients that reduce lead poisoning June 2010

  59. Lead poisoning and menopause

  60. Fact sheet For Schoolkids From Professor Knowlead About Lead

  61. Prevention of Exposure to Lead at Work in Indonesia

  62. Mencegah kontak dengan timbal di tempat kerja di Indonesia

  63. How to Protect Your Family from Lead in Indonesia

  64. Bagaimana melindungi keluargamu dari timbal di Indonesia

  65. Cigarette Smoking & Lead Toxicity
     صحيفة معلومات: التدخين والتسمم بالرصاص

  66. Medical Evaluation Questionnaire For Occupational Lead Exposure

  67. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to children

  68. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to adults

  69. Biosolids used as fertilizer in China and other countries

  70. What are the lead poisoning risks of a lead pellet, bullet or shot lodged in the body?

  71. Alcohol’s link to higher lead and iron levels

  72. USA Case Definition of Adult (including Occupational) & Child Elevated Blood Lead Levels (EBLL)

  73. Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children - A Renewed Call for Primary Prevention

  74. Occupational Health & Safety Fact Sheet Dangers of lead for roofers

  75. Let’s Make Leaded Petrol History - Let’s Make Leaded Gasoline History

  76. Lead, Your Health & the Environment. Available in Arabic, Chinese, English, Korean, Macedonian, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese 

  77. Lead Safe Housekeeping

  78. Old Lead Paint

  79. Working safely with lead

  80. A Renovator's Guide To The Dangers Of Lead (Brochure 30 pages)

  81. A Guide For Health Care Professionals (Brochure 34 pages)

  82. A Guide To Keeping Your Family Safe From Lead (Brochure 20 pages)

  83. Lead Hazard Management In Children's Services (Brochure 15 pages)

  84. A Guide To Dealing With Soil That Might Be Lead-Contaminated

  85. Exposure Assessment: Lead Neurotoxicity - Is the Center for Disease Control's goal to reduce lead below 10 µg/dl blood in all children younger than 72 months by 2010, good enough?

About Us | bell system lead poisoning | Contact Us | Council LEAD Project | egroups | Library - Fact Sheets | Home Page | Media Releases
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