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QUESTION: Why are Esperance Port workers & townspeople only having their blood tested for lead? 16 Mar 2007 WA, Australia

Hi there from Esperance! I am writing to thank Elizabeth O'Brien for her comments in our local paper. It is comforting to know that we are being thought of instead of being patronised by officials etc. We have been informed by several health professionals that blood testing in adults is inadequate/inaccurate and that a more comprehensive test is obtained by hair mineral analysis. Are you aware of this and if it is true-why are Port workers and community members only having their blood tested? I am organising hair testing for my family and a growing number of friends and community members so will let you know how we go-if you are interested.

Fiona Matthiessen‍

ANSWER: 16 Mar 2007

Dear Fiona,

Please don't do it!!! It is true that there are two schools of thought on the best assessment method for lead in humans. But 99.9999% of research is based on blood lead levels and blood lead levels are the ONLY assay that is accepted by Health departments (and the vast majority of doctors). If you want to put yourself outside of the Medicare system, and have the Health Dept ignore your results (and scoff at them) the surest way to do it is to rely on hair lead levels. For recent lead exposure, blood lead level is absolutely the gold standard test and the most useful, interpretable test (due to all the research using blood leads).

Another resident has called on the Health dept to organise blood lead testing at the Hospital so that people don't have to wait for a doctor's appointment. This will markedly speed up the process of getting answers to the question - how many people in Esperance have a blood lead level exceeding the new safe limit of 2 micrograms/decilitre (g/dL ) in blood (although I feel certain that the WA Dept of Health will only want to report on the number exceeding the World Health Organisation goal of 10 g/dL (Australia has no standard). I'll email you our Info Pack 56 so you can read up on the latest research while waiting for your blood lead results.

All the best
Elizabeth OBrien


From: The LEAD Group

To: Fiona

Sent: Friday, March 16, 2007 4:59 PM

Subject: Info Pack 56 - Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 g/dL

Dear Fiona,

Please find attached some recent research indicating the dangers of a blood lead level above 2 micrograms per decilitre (2 g/dL ), firstly in adults (so you might want to ask your doctor to test your blood lead level to see which tertile you are in for blood lead) and then some references re: children:

  1. "Blood Lead Below 0.48 mol/L (10 g/dL) and Mortality Among US Adults" by Andy Menke, Paul Muntner, Vecihi Batuman, Ellen K. Silbergeld and Eliseo Guallar, in Circulation - Journal of the American Heart Association, September 26, 2006 published online Sep 18, 2006; AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE FROM (attached)
  2. "'Safe' levels of lead may not be that safe after all" by Melissa Healy, Times Staff Writer, The Los Angeles Times 2/10/06 at
  3. "Lead in Blood: 'Safe' Levels Too High? Average Americans Tested Had Level High Enough for Increased Heart Disease Death Risk" by Miranda Hitti , Medical Writer, WebMD Medical News, Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD Medical Editor, WebMD Medical News, Sept. 18, 2006 at
  4. "Lead, Cadmium, Smoking, and Increased Risk of Peripheral Arterial Disease" by A Navas-Acien, E Selvin, R Sharrett, E Calderon-Aranda, E Silbergeld, E Guallar in Circulation Issue 109, American Heart Association (AHA) Inc. June 7th 2004. Available Online at
  5. ''Safe' levels of lead, cadmium" by American Heart Association (AHA), 8th June 2004, at
  6. "Blood Lead Levels and Death from All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: Results from the NHANES III Mortality Study" by Susan E. Schober, Lisa B. Mirel, Barry I. Graubard, Debra J. Brody, Katherine M. Flegal in Environmental Health Perspectives Online 6th July 2006, The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1st Oct 2006, at
  7. Research Indicates that Low Blood Lead Levels Contribute to Early Death from Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer, The Alliance for Healthy Housing, & Student, University of Maryland, published in Alliance Alert, August 2006, published by the Alliance for Healthy Housing (AFHH) at
  8. "Exposures to Environmental Toxicants and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in US Children" by Joe Braun, Robert S. Kahn, Tanya Froehlich, Peggy Auinger and Bruce P. Lanphear in Environmental Health Perspectives VOLUME 114 | NUMBER 12 | December 2006
  9. "Study: ADHD cases linked to lead, smoking" by LINDSEY TANNER, Associated Press Medical Writer
  10. "Exposure Assessment: Lead Neurotoxicity - Is the Center for Disease Control's goal to reduce lead below 10g/dL blood in all children younger than 72 months by 2010, good enough?" by Thomas F. Schrager, Ph.D., Toxicology Source published by Cambridge Toxicology Group Inc. at
  11. 'No "safe" lead level seen for fetal brain' by Amy Norton, Reuters,
  12. "Reduced Intellectual Development in Children with Prenatal Lead Exposure" by L Schnaas, SJ Rothenberg, M-F Flores, S Martinez, C Hernandez, E Osorio, S Ruiz Velasco & E Perroni, at Environmental Health Perspectives,  VOLUME 114 | NUMBER 5 | May 2006

Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth OBrien

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