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QUESTION: Would black inner city dust today contain as much lead as it did 20 years ago? 26/02/09   New South Wales, Australia

When I had children 20 years ago I know that lead was a real problem. I live in the inner city Darlinghurst and I remember I washed down the courtyard weekly and washed their toys etc all the time. Now that cars use unleaded petrol is it still a problem now for young children? I still have a lot of black dust over my outdoor furniture etc in Darlinghurst and wondered if it could contain lead like it did 20 years ago?

Thank you

ANSWER: Feb 27 2009

Dear Victoria,

thank you for your very thoughtful question. I have seen no traffic emissions fallout dust lead results to back up my contention but knowing that the air lead level has fallen by approximately 90% during the phaseout of leaded petrol in Australia, I think it is a fair assumption that the dust lead concentration has also fallen in the past 20 years. The trouble is, that apparently diesel vehicles are the greatest contributors to black inner city dust and there is nothing safe about diesel dust, despite diesel not containing lead. See for instance: which states: "3-Nitrobenzanthrone (3-nitro-7H-benz[de]anthracen-7-one) is a chemical emitted in the exhaust fumes of diesel engines which is a potent carcinogen.[2] It is reported as being the most powerful on record, far greater than the previous known strongest 1,8-dinitropyrene which also found in diesel exhaust.[3]" The other worrying news about pollution fallout that's come out in the last 20 years is that woodsmoke (from people's wood combustion heaters) is very hazardous and the fallout from woodsmoke can contain lead (different woods contain vastly differing amounts of lead dependent on the soil lead level and the rate of uptake into the plant). See  to read the article "Fine Particulates (PM2.5) Air Pollution Australia AND Lead in Woodsmoke". So I'm afraid that I have to recommend that you keep up your regular wet-cleaning of the black dust and perhaps even become a clean air campaigner! If they haven't done so already you could ask your Council to ban wood heaters. If you really want to know the lead content of the dust, you can pur

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

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