LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 4 no 2  Autumn  1996  ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)

The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Effects of lead on Children

by Robin Mosman, The LEAD Group

Unsafe renovation, either by parents or a neighbour, continues to be the main culprit in the cases of high blood lead levels in children reported to LEADLINE.

Inquirer 1 spoke to the paediatrician at her Early Childhood Centre 4 months after the outside of her rented old Queenslander was sanded, because her 3 year old son's behaviour had become "ratty". Her 5 year old had also "had a bit of a personality change". The paediatrician asked her if they lived in an old house that had been repainted, then ordered blood lead tests. Five months after the initial exposure, the boys lead levels were 1.2 µmol/L (25 µg/dL) and 1.1 µmol/L (23 µg/dL). The pathologist said that they were probably 2.4 µmol/L (50 µg/dL) at the time of initial exposure - "But don't quote me." He also said that these blood lead levels wouldn't cause any problems. The mother was 0.9 µmol/L (20 µg/dL). She had splitting headaches for the first 3 months after the sanding.

The pathologist informed the Health Department of the high blood lead levels. The Health Department gave her some advice on how to clean up, but advised her it would be best to move. When she told the landlord, he gave her 2 weeks notice.

At this time, the older boy's kindergarten teacher gave her a copy of 'Lead Alert', and the mother contacted LEADLINE. "You guys have given me most of the information that I've had". She made 3 lengthy phone calls and was sent a considerable amount of printed information in her attempt to work out the implications of what had happened, in the face of the confusing and contradictory responses from medical and official sources. The pathologist said the blood lead levels were "mild", the paediatrician who had ordered the tests seemed disinterested in any follow-up of them. "They don't know enough about the effects at those levels - they don't know any of the symptoms". But "State Health jumped - it could make anyone quite scared, the way they re-acted".

With LEADLINE's help, she prioritised her course of action. The painters who had done the sanding agreed to postpone work on the lounge room until she had moved out, and provide an industrial vacuum cleaner to clean up the dust, even though "they said they were 99% sure there was no lead". Health Department tests later showed 1 1 % lead in the lounge room paint. She wet-wiped surfaces, threw out pillows, washed doonas and toys, tightened up on hand- washing and moved out as soon as possible.

Three months later, there has been a slight improvement in the boys' behaviour, but "immunity seems to be down, for the whole family, and we have a lot of sores that aren't healing". They are due for more tests shortly.

Inquirer 2 contacted LEADLINE when her dog was found to be lead-poisoned following water- blasting of paint from the exterior of her home. The dog had drunk rainwater from a bowl with paint chips in it, and was so severely poisoned it required chelation. A nurse at the pathology clinic which tested the dog's blood lead level suggested the owner contact LEADLINE. The couple had previously spent 4 years completely renovating the house interior. At LEADLINE's suggestion, their 8 month old baby was tested and found to have a blood lead level of 1.3 µmol/L (27 µg/dL).

Armed with information from LEADLINE on how to clean up a lead-contaminated house, the parents "cleaned the house within an inch of its life." The baby was immediately removed from the house, and every room emptied of furniture, HEPA vacuumed and washed with liquid sugar soap - "walls, architraves, everything." The carpets, curtains and upholstery were cleaned with the special "Elite" service which removes lead. The backyard soil was replaced.

Since then, toys are washed every week, floors are washed, the dog is washed more often. Two months after the initial test, the baby's blood lead level had dropped to 0.8 µmol/L l (17 µg/dL).

Inquirer 3 is a friend of Inquirer 2. After hearing of their friend's experience, he and his partner had their 7 months old, just crawling baby tested because they were also renovating. The baby's blood lead level was 1.07 µmol/L (22.15 µg/dL), and "our lead awareness has sky- rocketed in the last week." They had been renovating for about a year, ceilings had been removed, floors replaced. Then 3 months prior to testing their baby, the outside of the house had been sanded and repainted. He said he had been vaguely aware of the lead issue before, but it would not have occurred to him that he might have had a problem If it hadn't been for his friends' experience. He has now purchased a HEPA vacuum cleaner, and they are "keeping the floors much cleaner." The baby is due for re-testing shortly.

Inquirer 4's child was admitted to hospital at the time her parents were sanding and repainting their home. She was found to have a low platelet count, which her increasingly lead-aware doctor now considers could have been caused by acute toxicity from lead exposure. Her blood lead was not tested at the time. The family then moved to another area. Six months later, the child had anaemia and was bruising very easily. An opportunistic blood lead test picked up a blood lead level of 0.73 µmol/L (15 µg/dL). Using half- life calculations, the doctor considers that her blood lead level could have been as high as 3 µmol/L (58 µg/dL) at the time of contamination.

This doctor had become lead-aware when renovating his own Victorian-era home. He said "If it wasn't for the advice I received from LEADLINE, I know for a fact my children would have been lead-poisoned during the renovation of our home. So many tradesmen were planning to use unsafe practices, heat- gunning, sanding, sand-blasting. They all totally disregarded the lead risk.

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