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QUESTION: Can a single lead ingestion incident cause memory problems etc in an adult? 24 Oct 2008 Victoria, Australia


I just wanted to ask about the availability of bone lead content testing by X-ray fluorescence in Australia. Is this type of test advisable/accessible in instances of suspected past ingestion of lead from fishing sinkers, but which occurred over a year ago and is thus too remote to show up in current blood lead levels?

Also, is an isolated incident involving lead ingestion by an adult likely to lead to long-term brain incapacity (eg memory problems, etc)?


ANSWER: 24 Oct 2008

Dear Madam,

there is no bone XRF machine currently functioning in Australia but if you were to write to your state and federal health ministers requesting it, you might save yourself a trip to Canada or the US. I will send you our Info Pack including the details of the machines in those countries. Writing to the Ministers is a very worthwhile approach that you could take to help others in similar situations. The Annual General Meeting of The LEAD Group (a charity which runs this information service) resolved to do just that - write to health ministers about bone XRF machines.

To answer your question about a single incident of lead ingestion in an adult, I'm sorry to say that there is no such thing. To be an adult in this world today you had to have been born during the era of leaded petrol and to have therefore breathed in lead contaminated air. Much of the inhaled lead is actually ingested so - we adults have all ingested lead on a continuous basis for most of our lives.

This past lead intake that we all carry around in us has certainly been associated with long-term brain incapacity, so the added single ingestion of lead would simply add to the severity and likelihood of symptoms occurring, and perhaps induce symptoms earlier in life.

I'll also email you our Info Pack on Health Impacts of Lead Poisoning and our Info Pack on ageing at 

Please don't hesitate to call or email further questions after a blood lead test, which is always worthwhile because a very high blood lead level often takes several years to reduce.

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

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