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  QUESTION: Neighbours' unhealthy building, 13 Dec 2002, South Australia

I have a neighbour living in an old home with all interior walls being painted with a lead based paint. They have lived there for three months and have been sick the whole time with the flu, gastro, muscle pains and now the husband has started fainting. They have been tested for lead poisoning.

My query is are we as neighbours at risk? The interior stone walls are falling apart with there being amounts of dust sitting on the floors. The house is a health hazard and was querying what to do about it.

If my family and I are at risk, I want to do something about it. Could you please advise me of the health hazard of living next to this property.


ANSWER: 17 Dec 2002

Dear Madam,

The risk to your family if lead paint dust is indeed the cause of your neighbours' poor health, would very much depend on the possibility of that dust entering your home and whether you have young children. The worst case scenario is say a cat or puppy that wanders between the houses and is patted by a toddler in your family or your might have a crawling baby that crawls on the neighbours floors. If there is no chance of ingestion by a sensitive member of your family, then the potential lead exposure is probably slight. A blood lead test for the youngest member of your family, especially if the person is under 7 years of age, would be the best way to answer your question and if the house you live in was built before 1970, then any child under 7 should have a blood lead test anyway - quite apart from your neighbour's dust issue.

I would also be concerned that the neighbour's health effects you mention may be related to something other than the lead paint. Certainly lead paint could be the culprit if the family is actually sanding or heat gunning the paint but if it is just falling off slowly as the walls disintegrate, then the father should not be so affected (being an adult he would be unlikely to get much lead paint into him). The blood lead tests that they are having should provide much of the answer about their lead exposure and may prompt the doctor to consider other problems of unhealthy buildings - radon gas, toxic moulds, damp, etc.

Please call 1800 626 086 if you would like to discuss any of this further.

Yours sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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