Media Release 17th October 2001
Inaugural International Lead Poisoning Awareness Day/Week
Australia celebrates the first International Lead Poisoning Awareness Day on Saturday, 20th October, 2001, and the whole week of International Lead Poisoning Awareness Week from Saturday, 20th October to Friday 26th October, 2001.
So what do we have to celebrate?
Australia will be the 55th country in the world to eliminate leaded petrol by 1st January, 2002, with one of the longest phase-out periods in the world - 17 years. China did it in 3 years from 1997-2000.
The Lead Advisory Service Australia, a free-call telephone information and referral service run by The LEAD Group, has handled over 25,500 calls under various NSW, South Australian and Commonwealth government grants since mid-1995, and has distributed 550,000 information items. According to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), The LEAD Group is the most successful environment group in NSW in terms of obtaining grants from the EPA.
Due largely to the work of The LEAD Group, Australia was the first country to ban lead-core wick candles in 1999 and has recalled the heavily promoted lead soldiers on 8th August 2001, thanks to the co-operative efforts of the Lead Advisory Service and state and federal consumer affairs departments.
In early November 2001, Nitto Denko will introduce a lead-free PVC tape onto the Australian market, which they hope will become the new standard in PVC tape. They have also announced $2000 sponsorship, the first corporate sponsorship, for the Lead Advisory Service Australia.
The NSW Council LEAD Project, run by The LEAD Group in 2001, is raising awareness and action levels among NSW Councils about Council responsibilities on lead and education opportunities within their communities.
The LEAD Group's website has attracted 38,385 visitors in the past year (Oct 2000-Sep 2001) and currently includes over 400 documents, all written and web-published by volunteers, and including the 30th issue of LEAD Action News, our newsletter, published continuously since 1992.
Thousands of "lucky" people who live near Sydney airport have had ceiling dust removed from their ceilings to reduce lead exposure, as part of the federal transport department's noise insulation project. In January 2002, the rain of lead from petrol will finally cease and this might be a good time to vacuum out the accumulated dust of decades of air pollution from under your roof, to stop it ever entering your living space. Phone the Lead Advisory Service for names of ceiling dust contractors.
The Australian Federal government has collected, between March 1994 and January 2000, over $725 million from the tax for the lead used in petrol. This does not take into account the tax on lead concentrates, ingots or products exported by Australia, the world's largest producer of mined lead and the largest exporter of refined lead, and the second largest exporter of lead ores and concentrates.
What don't our governments like to talk about?
No government in Australia is currently acting on an interdepartmental strategy to eliminate lead poisoning, even though it is regarded as the greatest environmental health threat to children and the blood lead level at which unacceptable health effects are known to occur is continually being revised downward. In April 2001, Dr Bruce Lanphear's team reported that IQ declines as blood lead rises in children who have a blood lead concentration lower than 10 micrograms per decilitre, the level currently considered acceptable. Levels as low as one quarter the current Australian goal have a negative impact on reading and maths ability. The most recent and only published study on blood lead levels in Australian children found the mean blood lead level of children aged one to four was 5 micrograms per decilitre, meaning that the vast majority of Australian pre-school children have had their reading and maths ability affected by lead. According to Dr Lanphear "for children who had blood lead less than 10 micrograms per decilitre, there was an 11.1 point reduction in IQ for the initial 10 microgram per decilitre increase in blood lead."
The Australian study, the National Survey of Lead in Children (1996) found that an estimated 75,000 pre-schoolers have a blood lead level over our national goal of 10 micrograms per decilitre. Yet the federal health department has not even responded to letters from The LEAD Group calling for action on lead, no follow-up study has been planned, and the environment minister, Senator Hill has determined that $15,000 per annum is sufficient funding for the Lead Advisory Service Australia.
The Lead Advisory Service has limped along on volunteer labour with shoestring Federal and South Australian state funding in this year, fittingly called the International Year of Volunteers.
By comparison, just one poor community of 7,000 people in Los Angeles received a US$1million grant for lead poisoning prevention, and these grants are given out all over the USA. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has increased the funding allocation for their Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction program from US$100 million in 2001 to US$110 million for 2002. This represents a substantial investment in children's intelligence and their future. The US Environmental Protection Agency also provides lead program funding in the millions of dollars.
The US HUD funding alone for 2002 converts to A$213,586,295.45 or 74.846 Australian cents per US citizen. Environment Australia's $15,000.00 funding for LASA amounts to 0.077 Australian cents per Australian citizen. Just the lead paint program in the US therefore, provides over 970 times the level of funding per citizen for lead poisoning prevention, than is provided to each Australian citizen.
Governments push the line that eliminating lead from petrol eliminates lead problems. If removing lead from petrol was sufficient cause to cease funding lead poisoning prevention programs, why would the US Department of Housing and Urban Development have continued to fund such programs for six years after the elimination of leaded petrol in the US, and at an increasing rate of funding?
What needs to be done about lead?
Every child should be screened by questionnaire to determine whether they have any lead risks and require a blood lead test. See the questions at Childhood Lead Poisoning Risk Factor Questionnaire
The estimated 625,000 Australians who drink tankwater should test the tapwater for lead as one in four tanks in rural Victoria exceed the acceptable lead in drinking water level.
NSW WorkCover should immediately ban the use of leaded slag as an abrasive blasting material.
The LEAD Group calls on Australian governments to give assistance for families with young children who are planning renovation which may disturb ceiling dust, by way of grants or low interest loans so that this historic dust can be cleared away by professional contractors before it causes lead poisoning to a new generation. If heritage grants can be used to ensure that correct heritage colours are used when re-painting (yet heritage offices make no mention of lead-safe paint preparation practices), why can't grants be given to ensure lead-safe practices are used by both contractors and do-it-yourself renovators of pre-1970 buildings. There are over 3.7 million pre-1970 homes in Australia.
The LEAD Group calls on Australian governments and corporations to support with an adequate level of funding, the Lead Advisory Service Australia in continuing their vital work as the only lead poisoning prevention service for Australian families who don't live near lead mines or smelters. "We want to keep helping Australians prevent lead poisoning, but we want wages too!!" says the Manager of the Lead Advisory Service Australia, Elizabeth O'Brien.
For further information about lead and renovation contact the Lead Advisory Service Australia on free-call 1800 626 086. To find out more about one of Australia's worst cases of government inaction in response to known cases of lead poisoning, see our latest LEAD Action News at www.lead.org.au/lanv8n3/lanv8n3.html
Contact: Elizabeth OBrien, National Coordinator, The LEAD Group Inc. on (02) 9716 0014 ###
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