LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 9 no 4, September, 2009, 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.
Editor-in-Chief: Evan Whitton

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Editorial: The connections between lead poisoning and climate change

How are global warming, black carbon, lead in rainwater tanks and building cavities, drought, birds falling out of the sky, cyclones and wildfires connected?


Leaded petrol is still used in 15 countries with a total population approaching 275 million. Dr Axel Friedrich says phasing out lead from petrol not only protects millions of children and adults from lead poisoning, but is a necessary first step toward controlling greenhouse gases because a catalytic converter can only be used on lead-free petrol.

[A catalytic converter is a device used to reduce toxic emissions from internal combustion engines used in motor cars, trucks, buses, mining equipment, etc.] Michael P. Walsh says three-way catalytic converters dramatically reduce climate change. Rick Stegman says black carbon, the soot from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels (petrol, coal etc.), is the most potent climate-warming aerosol. He says soot particles in snow as small a 10 parts per billion allows snow to absorb more solar radiation and thus melts more rapidly. Dr Charles Zender says black carbon has caused as much as 30% of Arctic warming since pre-industrial times [earlier than, say, 1750]. Dr Mark Jacobson says soot from fossil fuels and biofuels [e.g. ethanol] combined may cause about 16% of gross global warming. Sir Nicholas Stern says average global temperature has risen 0.7 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial times. There are predictions that by 2100 temperatures will rise by 1.5-2.0 degrees centigrade even if action is taken today, and by 5-6 degrees if no action is taken. Global heating causes drought, and water shortage leads to the installation of rainwater tanks, but they may be unsafe because of lead in roof materials. Water in a quarter of the tanks in rural Victoria was found to have a lead level higher than the health guidelines. The LEAD Group says the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for safe lead levels in the blood should be lowered from 10 µg/dL (micrograms per decilitre) to 2 µg/dL. 28% of children in an Australian lead-mining town, Broken Hill, have blood lead levels higher than 10 µg/dL. In the drought year 2007, Broken Hill children suffered the first increase in blood lead levels since 1992.

Hot weather exacerbates the effects of lead poisoning. Birds began ‘falling out of the sky’ in the port town of Esperance, Western Australia, in December 2006. Michelle Crisp advised the authorities and The LEAD Group that bird deaths were ‘really bad’ on 17 December, when the temperature was 42.5 degrees centigrade [104 degrees Fahrenheit]. More birds died in March 2007, when the temperature was 38.5 C [100 F].

[Note. Upwards of 9,500 birds died and seven children were found to have been poisoned by lead at Esperance. An inquiry in 2007 found that lead dust had escaped when lead carbonate was being loaded on ships in windy conditions from December 2006 to March 2007. On 10 June 2009, it was revealed that the Esperance Port Authority had plea-bargained a charge of causing pollution with criminal negligence down to a charge of causing pollution. The Authority’s guilty plea to the lesser charge put it at risk of a fine of no more than A$1.325 million on sentencing in September 2009.]Lead dust from leaded petrol emissions has settled in building cavities, soil and water bodies. Global heating causes more cyclones; subsequent flooding causes residual lead particles in soil to be uncovered and spread more widely. This was particularly noted in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina [2005].

As one Vermont journalist noted “Global warming grabs more headlines than lead contamination, but the heavy metal actually poses a more imminent environmental health threat in Vermont…” I would add, “…and elsewhere.”

This edition of LEAD Action News also contains a letter on lead contamination in a residential property in NSW, written by a tenant who kindly gave permission for us to web-publish it, in the hope that it might help others to successfully be compensated if they should happen to find that the home they are renting is lead-contaminated. Note news item on compensation for rental lead poisoning US-style

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Last Updated 17 December 2011
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