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  QUESTION: How soon after breathing lead paint dust should you test the blood for lead? 19 Nov 2006, Queensland Australia

Hi Elizabeth

Thank you for getting back to me. I went to my GP yesterday and she gave me a form to get a blood test but only to check my lead level not my calcium, iron or zinc status. I have been taking Elevite maternity and pregnancy vitamins which do have a large amount of iron, calcium and zinc would this help? My G.P also did a heap of blood tests before I got pregnant and never mentioned that any of these things were out.
Also my GP told me to wait a week before going to get the test as she said breathing in the dust doesn't matter it is only how much you ingest or swallow? Should I go and get the test straight away as you suggested?

Many thanks Elizabeth

I am 5 months pregnant and my husband has been recently sanding back some of our window frames and someone suggested we should test the paint for lead. Unfortunately is was positive for lead.

I am very worried as I am pregnant and scared that I may have breathed in some of the sanded paint dust.

How long after exposure can you have a blood test to check your lead levels?

Many thanks

ANSWER: 20 Nov 2006

Q1: Dear Rebecca,

Any dust particles that are small enough to be breathed in to the bottom of the lungs are absorbed 100% and instantly. Larger particles may be swept into the digestive tract and absorbed practically straight away but only between 10% and 50% is absorbed depending on the acid level in your stomach (it is more acidic the longer you have gone without eating) and your nutritional status. Therefore we recommend an immediate blood lead test combined with iron studies and possibly an assessment of your calcium and zinc status, depending on whether these have recently been assessed as part of your pre-natal care. Any doctor can order this combination of tests, it doesn't have to be your gynaecologist or obstetrician. I just wish more pre-natal medical professionals, including midwives, would advise pregnant women about the dangers of renovating old houses while pregnant. It would also be an incredibly useful awareness-raising measure if pre-natal care included testing blood lead levels in all pregnant women as a standard test (it can be done on the same blood sample as the test for anaemia). Have you seen "The Six Step Guide To Painting Your Home" (or follow the link at lk.html) for other useful renovation guides to be found on our website? If you don't have a printer, please let me know and we can post you a free hard copy.

I'd be very happy to talk you through understanding the blood lead result but you need to know both the number and the unit of the result. It's best to ask the doctor for a copy of the pathology report.

All the best and I hope to hear back from you, especially if you have any further questions. Yours Sincerely

Q2: Hi Rebecca,
yes it seems that your GP is happy that your calcium, iron and zinc levels are good without testing them at this time.

The doctor may be confusing a number of issues in her advice to wait a week for the blood lead test however. Children, it is true, are much more likely to ingest lead than to inhale it whereas for adults who do not have a lot of hand-to-mouth activity and who are more likely to be around renovations, the inhalation pathway is usually the major pathway. To find out whether you took in lead during your recent renovations you should have the blood test straight away.

Elizabeth O'Brien


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