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  QUESTION: Comparison of average lead levels between U.S. and Broken Hill residents, 03 Dec 2005, Queensland Australia

Dear Lead Group,

Later this month I will be relocating from Cairns to Broken Hill in NSW. I have family living there with children, 7yo and 8yo and their rising lead levels concern me. I asked my GP to run some blood checks to have my lead level checked with the results back next week and I will have another check in about 6 months time. Is there any possible way of telling me what the average lead level is for a healthy male adult (myself 41yo)? What is normal and what is excessive and also what levels should healthy children have and what levels could cause them harm as I have read some terrible stories how high lead levels can affect a young child's brain development and can cause growth problems.

Many thanks for your time and I hope you can help me with my questions, Hoping to hear from you soon.

Kind regards,
Clay Tenni.

ANSWER: 12 Dec 2005

Dear Clay Tenni,

There are currently no statistics that have been aggregated for the Australian public to compare their mean blood-lead levels, but given the fact that Australia is about 7 years behind the U.S in lead poisoning awareness (including the phase out of leaded petrol), I have provided you the average blood-lead levels across the U.S population as recorded by the NHANES III and IV reports conducted between 1991-1994, and 1999- 2002:


NHANES III 1991-1994

Among U.S adults (male) aged between 20-59 years, the mean blood lead level was 2.9 g/dl (2.7-3.1)

Among U.S. children (both sexes) aged between 6-19 years, the mean blood lead level was 1.7 g/dl (1.5-1.8)

(The number of children sampled were 2,960, and the number of male adults sampled were 2,365)

NHANES IV 1999-2002:

Adults (male) 20-59 years, mean blood level 2.0 g/dl (1.9- 2.0) Children 6-19 years (both sexes), mean blood level 1.1 g/dl (1.1- 1.2)

(The number of children sampled were 6,283, and the number of male adults sampled were 2,689)

In some literature, "extreme" elevated blood-lead levels are generally considered to start at 10g/dL, however there is a growing amount of research arguing that harmful health effects in young children can begin at levels as low as 2g/dL. As stated by the U.S. Federal government itself in 2002, there is generally no "safe" blood-lead level for children: "there is no apparent threshold below which adverse effects of lead do not occur," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), quoted by Peter Montague, Rachel's Environment & Health News #827 - Pediatricians Urge a Precautionary Approach to Toxic Lead, September 25, 2005).

Anyone with a level that exceeds 2g/dL may therefore be at an increased risk of harm.

I hope this information is helpful, and best of luck with your results in the forthcoming months.

Giuseppina Tesoriero
Volunteer Information Officer

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