LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News Volume 7 No 4, 2000, 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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Review of NHMRC Strategy

REFERENCE 2: "Recommendations for a National Strategy" in Reducing Lead Exposure in Australia - July 1993, Final Report Vol 1 - Pages ES 7 To ES 20. Funded by National Health and Medical Research Council. Published by Commonwealth Department of Human Services and Health, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 1994.

Recommendation 3 Lower the limit for lead in petrol to 0.15 grams per litre. Refine costings for lowering to 0.026 grams/litre. Impose controls on benzene and other aromatics in petrol. Comment – the limit for lead in petrol is generally 0.2 g/L in Australia but because Shell Half Lead (0.1 g/L) is sold in some states, these states actually average around 0.15 g/L in leaded petrol sold. As of 1st January 2000, Western Australia is banning leaded petrol and Federal Environment Minister, Senator Hill has asked all the other states when this is achievable Australia-wide. The conclusion is by 1st January 2002. The allowable benzene content in Australian petrol is still 5% though the federal government has plans for Cleaner Fuel.

Recommendation 4 Increase excise on leaded petrol by at least two cents per litre, with the revenue earmarked for lead abatement activities. Implement on-going information/education program targeted to drivers, car mechanics. Comment – the excise was increased to 2 cents in 1994 but the revenue, more than $725,000,000 collected as at February 2000, has never been earmarked for lead abatement activities. The education campaign was brief – funds have dried up.

Recommendation 6 Identify housing with high risk of lead paint exposure. Implement inspection program. Abate paint in high risk houses. Develop training program for paint abatement workers. Develop methods for disposal of wood painted with lead-based paint. Comment – risk factors have been identified and incorporated into the education campaign but it is up to the individual to identify that their own house is "high risk". No houses have been abated for paint in government programs with the exception of state-funded smelter and mining town remediation programs such as in NSW and SA. Federal and state government grants for Heritage homes give no information or financial support for lead-safe renovation though assistance is available to ensure that Heritage colours are used when repainting. Master Painters Australia run training courses in some states, though in other states a lead-aware painter is a rarity eg South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania. Canberra Institute of Technology and CTI Consultants in Sydney run lead paint management courses. CTI even offer courses interstate.

Wood painted with lead-based paint is either burned as firewood or re-used or landfilled with the paint still on it. I know of no plan in place to resolve this problem.

Other Recommendations

  • Undertake a program to rationalise the many and varied regulations covering lead use in products. This effort should focus on regulations that are now out-of date because of the revision of the NHMRC guidelines. Efforts should also be made to identify and correct gaps in controls on lead sources and to rationalise variations between State requirements, where appropriate.  Comment – has not happened.

  • Prohibit sale and use of lead shot, lead in children's toys, paints and crayons, lead fishing weights, lead curtain weights and other products in which lead can be readily replaced. Comment – Victoria, Northern Territory and South Australia have begun phasing out use of lead shot in wetlands or certain designated areas, though of course lead shot is still on sale everywhere. The Australian toy standard (AS 1647.3) limits lead content in children’s paints and crayons, surface coatings and other components of toys to 90 parts per million and there was a federal survey to ensure compliance in 1999, but it was not published. Lead fishing weights and curtain weights have not even been considered for banning yet though lead fishing weights and jigs are definitely on the way out in the US.

  • Encourage fuel efficiency among drivers of pre-1986 cars. Reductions in fuel use will reduce lead emissions from cars using leaded fuel. Activities such as keeping the car tuned, removing roof racks when not needed, using recommended tyre pressure, and smoother driving can reduce fuel use. This program would, of course, also have wider air pollution and greenhouse benefits. Comment – done, usually by state environment departments and federal Dept of Primary Industries and Energy [now called Dept of Industry, Science and Resources].

  • Evaluate sources of lead in food to determine why lead intake from food is estimated to be 15 micrograms per week in Australia and only 5 to 8 micrograms in the United States. If the primary contributor is found not to be petrol (which is separately addressed), identify and implement programs for reducing lead content. Comment – who knows? People have questioned the estimate. Market basket surveys found that the percentage of the Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake (PTWI) of lead from food for an adult male fell from 34% in 1987 to 18% in 1990. However the PTWI stands at 50 g/kg/week (micrograms of lead per kilogram of body weight per week) and must be questioned - this "tolerable intake" was determined when the "tolerable blood lead level" was 2 1/2 or 3 times the current level of 10 g/dL. By comparison, the US has set a maximum intake allowable for children of 15 g/day from consumer products. The question of whether it is safe to have a fertiliser plant next door to every Australian lead smelter and using sulphuric acid from the smelter to make the fertiliser, has never been adequately answered. Also, since the ban on the duck season in NSW in 1995, hunters (mainly from Victoria) have been free to use lead shot to kill ducks over ricefields in Southern NSW - the ricebowl of Australia. The impact of this practice on the lead content of rice (previously already one of the larger contributors to food lead intake of typical Australian 2 year olds) has not been ascertained in published form. The question of lead content of calcium supplements has been investigated in the US but apparently not in Australia. Whether there is lead in dolomite or other nutritional supplements would only be known if these items were adequately labelled, not just with the added ingredients but also with the contaminants listed.

  • Develop information materials for people engaged in hobbies involving lead that warn of the dangers to themselves and their families. Comment – done by Environment Australia (EA) and published in 1995. However, updates of the various factsheets have been awaiting approval by EA since May 1999 and have not been released as of March 2000.

  • Examine availability and labelling of paint containing lead. Determine if lower lead content is feasible. Determine if greater restrictions, warnings and/or information programs are required to prevent use in domestic situations. Comment – not done publicly.

  • Develop mechanisms for notification of potential purchasers by vendors of homes containing lead-based paint. Comment – not done.

  • Examine the extent of current recycling programs for products containing lead, such as batteries, television sets, electronic devices, and others. Identify barriers and opportunities for recycling. Where appropriate, develop programs for greater recycling of these products. Comment – not done publicly. Compaq is currently recycling the lead from computer monitors wherever they have convinced local councils and large businesses to contact them to organise pick-up of large consignments. Individuals and small businesses should contact their local council for information or to encourage the council to organise Compaq pick-ups of significant quantities of monitors. Lead acid battery recycling seems reasonably well organised for vehicle batteries through vehicle service centres but there has been no survey and some evidence to say that other uses such as in alarm systems, do not carry out systematic recycling of their lead acid batteries through the service provider. Eg alarm maintenance companies leave the used battery for the building occupier to dispose of and only some councils organise lead acid battery pick-up and recycling.

  • Work with plastics industry to identify current uses of lead additives and develop alternatives. Comment – the plastics industry did their own plan but it got put on the back burner.

  • Examine cosmetics and hair dyes in Australia to determine if they currently contain lead. If so, adopt appropriate regulations to eliminate its use. Comment – not done publicly for cosmetics. Even if Australian made cosmetics contain no lead (as would be expected) there still needs to be a survey of the cosmetics imported (usually privately though sometimes for commercial sale) from countries such as India and Arabic areas where leaded eye make-up and lip blackener are traditional. Claims that medicated nappy rash creams and baby powders containing zinc (which is typically contaminated with lead) also contain lead have not been adequately investigated in Australia. Leaded hair colour restorers are usually labelled with their lead content and the appropriate regulation, the Therapeutic Goods Act, is being reviewed in 2000.

  • Determine if traditional medicines containing lead are in use in Australia. 'If so, working with the relevant community, develop information materials and programs to warn of dangers and to discourage use. Comment – not done publicly.

  • Examine the current status of sump oil recycling programs and determine if efforts are needed to encourage further recycling. Comment – in March 1999, the sump oil recycling industry was determined to be at grave risk of becoming financially non-viable if the proposed tax system reduced the excise on diesel fuel. According to the federal Senate Committee report, ‘Inquiry into the GST and a New Tax System’ (March 1999) the current low rate of recycling of sump oil in Australia – about 28% - would be reduced even further, perhaps to zero. The report predicted that between 390 and the total figure of 540 million litres of oil annually, would not be collected for recycling and would therefore be at risk of entering "soil, the water table and eventually waterways, damaging terrestrial and marine vegetation and wildlife." The Committee recommended that waste oil recycling "should attract appropriate government support." The NSW EPA has informed me that the national oil recyclers industry association has written guidelines for their members on waste classification and management but to date I have not been able to obtain a copy. Of course, recycling is not the same as re-use and reports received by the Lead Advisory Service several years ago that oil was being collected and then used as fuel without any filtration or treatment to remove contaminants, have never been adequately addressed.

IMPORTANT REQUEST TO READERS – I have written italicised comments after each component in the following government plans regarding consumer products – but I would love to hear from you if my comment is wrong or incomplete and will be happy to print a retraction with the good news about what has actually happened, in a later issue of LEAD Action News.

Review of NSW Lead Issues Paper 
Review of NHMRC Strategy
Review of Ros Kellys Lead Roundtable
Review of NSW Lead Management Action Plan 
Review of NSW Parliamentary Select Committee 
Review of OECD Declaration

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Last Updated 21 November 2013
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