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  QUESTION: Chronically elevated blood lead levels (20-30 g/dL) and long term health effects. 28 Jun 2004, Queensland Australia

I am trying to find information on the relationship of chronically elevated blood lead levels (between 20 and 30) and long term health effects.

ANSWER: 28 Jun 2004

Dear Meagan,

The attached study Blood Lead Levels and Mortality by Mark Lustberg, PhD; Ellen Silbergeld, PhD, Arch Intern Med. 2002;162(21):2443-2449. doi:10-1001/pubs.Arch Intern Med.-ISSN-0003-9926-162-21-ioi10861, found relationships with long term health effects when the PbB level was only recorded once (ie not chronically) as being above 20 micrograms per decilitre (g/dL) in a national survey (see attached Chicago Tribune news article about it), but nevertheless it at least answers the question as to some of the long term health effects for blood lead levels above 20 g/dL. You will also find some other useful links in our recent "Lead, Ageing and Death" fact sheet, also Health Impacts of Lead Poisoning.

An April 1998 article in Popular Mechanics by Jim Wilson (attached) which has only recently been brought to my attention raises concerns about lead (and cadmium and manganese) and violent or delinquent behaviour and this connection has been studied further using both tooth (or bone) lead level as the marker (see attached "Bone lead levels in adjudicated delinquents. A case control study" by Herbert L. Needleman*, Christine McFarland, Roberta B. Ness, Stephen E. Fienberg, Michael J. Tobin. Neurotoxicology and Teratology 24 (2002) 711 717) and the total lead used in widespread and dispersive-use consumer products such as petrol and paint as an indicator of lead exposure (see attached "How Lead Exposure Relates to Temporal Changes in IQ, Violent Crime, and Unwed Pregnancy by Rick Nevin, Environmental Research Volume 83, Issue 1, May 2000, Pages 122 ). 

I'd be very interested to hear whether Mt Isa Mines' new owners are planning to lower the blood lead level at which workers are moved from the lead-exposure job. It seems a natural consequence of any study of the effects of lead at levels above the current national goal for all (non-occupationally exposed) Australians of 10 g/dL.

Please keep in touch. This smattering of research articles is just a sample of what you would need to look at to answer your question properly but we have no paid staff here so it's the best I can do between taking other calls and writing reports to the South Australian and NSW governments who do at least give us a tiny amount of administrative funding. I'd love to work further with you on this important question but it would have to be in a paid capacity.

Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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