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QUESTION: Could our unborn child have been adversely affected by lead from the port at Esperance? - 13 Mar 2007 WA, Australia

Our town has recently had 4000 birds die from lead poisoning. My husband works with an affiliated group of the port here and he and his colleagues regularly come into contact with the lead that is loaded here. it is both airborne and gets washed away into the waterways and eventually the beach. along with many others, we live within one kilometre of the port and i have been pregnant for the last 8 months. the media reports say that the lead that killed these birds has no effect on humans, which we are very sceptical about and are very alarmed. the department of environment has said that air quality monitoring at several stations has shown lead presence for some time, which they have 'discussed' with the port. have we been exposed to lead poisoning without realising it, and could our unborn child have been adversely affected? our port has been handling lead for about 15 months. thank you.


ANSWER: 09 Mar 2007

Dear Emma,

I was aware of the bird deaths from shortly after they occurred but only read about the birds dying of lead poisoning in the very email that preceded yours in my inbox (please see the article below) - though I had suggested it as a possibility to another Esperance resident at the time I heard about the mass deaths.

The short answer to your question is that a blood lead test for you will be the very best way to find out whether your unborn child is receiving lead from you via the placenta - the placenta does not significantly filter lead from your blood, thus your blood lead level is a good indicator of the baby's level. Anyone in Esperance who believes they have breathed air or ingested dust or dust-contaminated water from the port loading operation, should have a blood lead test as soon as possible - just ask your doctor. Please keep in touch and let me know your result. I will also forward our Info Pack 56 to help with interpretation of blood lead results for humans.

Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O’Brien

See: Esperance parliamentary inquiry follow-up factsheet: Where to from Here??

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