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  QUESTION: I was born in Broken Hill and I'd like info about the effects of lead, in particular, relating to mental health, memory. 07 Jul 2003, South Australia

I was born in Broken Hill and lived there for the first three years of my life, before moving to Port Pirie, Pt Augusta, then Whyalla before my teens: I am now 37 years old. I recently saw a story about lead levels in children born in Broken Hill, and since I suffer from many of the problems mentioned in that program, I searched the web and was led to I would like to know more information about the effects of lead, in particular, relating to mental health, memory, and/or any information on help I may be able to receive.

I thank you in advance for any help you may give.

ANSWER: 09 Jul 2003

Dear Ronny,

please see a second email to you for the standard message we have been forced to send to all email enquirers since our funding was suspended and if you can help us, then please do so. The deal is that at the end of the three year grant period, there should be no more need for the Lead Advisory Service according to Lea Stevens. I would love you to let her know how ridiculous this notion is. If all the lead in our environment was able to be evaporated into thin air, then her request would be reasonable. But the fact is, people like you and to a lesser extent, your children, are going to live their whole lives suffering from the effects of lead. The government must be very relieved that so few lead poisoned people ever work that out - otherwise they'd have a flood of compensation claims from every Broken Hill mine-worker and resident, Port Pirie smelter-worker and resident, and everyone who's ever lived on a busy road or in a pre-1970 house with lead paint.

I wanted to briefly answer your enquiry because it demonstrates perfectly the long-term need for information about lead poisoning but I am forced by our desperate lack of funding to plead with you to send an email of support of an appropriate funding level for our service. You most likely were in both Broken Hill and Port Pirie at a time when blood lead testing was not carried out so you probably never had a blood lead test. Is that correct? This leaves you only two reasonable options. You should ask your doctor for a blood lead test as soon as possible and continue for the rest of your life to have regular blood lead tests (say, every 5 years or more often if you have osteoporosis or high blood pressure or a high blood lead test result) so that you can track what the lead that you have stored in your body is doing. It is only when it comes out of the bones and into the bloodstream that the lead is easy to measure. The only other possibility all depends on the unlikely event that your mother kept your baby teeth when they fell out instead of "giving them to the tooth fairy". If someone has kept your baby teeth then doing a tooth lead test is the very best way to know how much lead you were exposed to during the time that your baby teeth were developing ie up to the age that they fell out. If you are fortunate enough to have some baby teeth stored somewhere, you can arrange with the NSW Health Department's lab at Lidcombe in Sydney on ph 02 96460424 to have them tested for lead and possibly for other heavy metals. There is a huge range of toxic heavy metals in both the Broken Hill and Port Pirie environments, not just lead.

I would be very interested to receive a copy of the Broken Hill children's lead poisoning story that you saw because I don't think we have a copy in our library and we do like our library to be the best in the world on lead issues. Could you please post a copy to us or let me know the name and date of the publication so I might track it down.

I encourage you to phone the Environmental Health section of the Department of Human Services (DHS) SA on 82266000 to ask them what help they can offer you.

I have attached a list of health effects of lead which may lead you to what you want to know, and also the latest research of greatest concern, from the US, Blood lead levels and mortality Lustberg and Silbergeld; Arch Intern Med. 2002 Nov 25;162(21):2443-9. Plus an article about that research from the Port Pirie Recorder.

I hope this helps and feel free to discuss your blood or tooth lead results with me when you receive them.
Yours sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

(Update 2010 See: Health Impacts of Lead Poisoning)

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