Lead Advisory Service Australia
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Lead Advisory Service News Volume 1 No 1
The journal of The Lead Advisory Service  ISSN 1440-0561

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Electrician nearly Killed by Chewing Leaded PVC Cable

The following article is reprinted with the kind permission of Woman’s Day, Story: Jan Mayman originally titled "My Deadly Cable Addiction", published 14/7/97.

Every working day for 15 years, Perth electrician Richard Marsh chewed his way through about a metre of sweet, pleasant-tasting plastic cable wire. The 30-year-old’s bizarre addiction almost killed him – the wire contains the heavy metals lead and cadmium, and Richard was slowly being poisoned. [Ed. - His blood lead level was 97 g/dL at one point]

When a doctor told Mandy, 29, of her husband’s addiction, she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, "At last we knew what was wrong with him", she says. "I felt like throwing a party!"

Richard says a lot of electricians chew cable. "There are no warnings and no-one I’ve spoken to knew about the lead. I had no idea – I was addicted to the stuff," he says.

Richard has chomped through more than 3500 metres of wire – about the length of 35 football fields. His case has touched off a health scare amongst electricians all over Australia, with blood tests recommended for all plastic cable wire chompers.

It will take at least a year of agonising treatment before Richard’s body is cleansed of the lead still locked into his bones. So far he has had 13 treatments, each lasting five days.

"It feels like acid being injected into your body," he says, grim-faced. "The pain is pretty bad."

The costly treatment is covered by Medicare, fortunately for the Marshes. But months of unpaid sick leave have been a crippling financial burden on the self-employed electrical contractor. Savings vanished; each bill was a family crisis. New clothes and holidays were an impossible dream for the couple and their 4 lively children.

"It has been terribly hard on the kids," Richard says. "The lead affected my moods. One minute I’d be a fantastic loving dad, the next minute I’d be yelling at everyone, snapping their heads off. I’d feel extremely violent. I wondered if I was turning into a psychopath."

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