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QUESTION: I had a hair test with lead levels off the chart. What should be my next step? 27/06/09   Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Hi there, I had a hair test come back on month ago with lead levels off the chart. I was wondering what should be my next step? I had the water tested and it came up clear at home and at work. I do have some flaking paint in my bathroom which is probably quite old, could that cause such elevated lead levels? I went to the doctor to order a blood test but haven't had the blood test yet. Just wondering if there is much point in a blood test or are is the fact that my hair test is so elevated enough? My doctor has never tested for lead before and said she wouldn't know if the test was accurate or even what the results would mean when they come back so I'm not sure that there is even any point? How can I determine what the source of the poisoning is? I've had some bad symptoms come up over the last few months like and odd fluttering sensation in the heart, pains in the lungs (i haven't smoked in two years) and really bad jaw pain, and limited mouth opening. My hair test also shows very high magnesium and calcium (which shows wasting and could be related to poor digestion?). Could these symptoms be related to lead poisoning?

Sorry for all the questions. Any advice would be much appreciated :)!! Kind


EMAIL TWO Sent: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 7:03 AM

Dear Elizabeth,

Thanks so much for your fast and detailed reply. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it!

I had one sample from work and 4 from different taps in my house sampled, they all came back as less than 5 g/l . I guess below this level they don't tell you the exact reading since it is so low?

I will get the blood test done this week. Could you tell me whether the health department will still do free testing/ assessment if the blood levels are over a certain amount?

Thanks again for your reply, I will read through all the info and also take it to my doctor when I get the results back. I will also be making a donation in my next monthly pay to support this great service.

Kind Regards

EMAIL THREE Sent: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 11:41 AM

Hi Elizabeth,

I finally got the blood test done and got my results back yesterday. My lead blood level is 3.0  g/dL.

My doctor said that this is fine and within the normal range and the printout from the doctor states "In the absence of occupational exposure, NHMRC recommendation is for blood level to be less than 10.0 g/DL. With occupational exposure, if the blood lead level exceeds 50.0 g/dL, NSW WorkCover Code of Practice recommendation is removal from further exposure until level falls below 40.0 g/dL"

So even though my doctor (who said she has no experience at all with lead poisoning and this is the first time she has tested for it), and the NHRMC say that 3.0 g/dL is acceptable,  from your reply below it seems that 3 is a actually a high enough level and that I should take further action on this?

I'm a little puzzled as to where the exposure would be coming from. We had the water tested and that is fine. The house is an old house built in the 30s however has been repainted. The only old peeling paint is in our bathroom and is only on the ceiling. Would this be enough to cause problems? I've probably only eaten about 2 tomatoes from our garden which is way down the other end of the yard and soil was bought at Magnet Mart so I dont think it would be from home grown vegies? I also don't have any hobbies that would expose me to lead and I work in an office so I doubt there would be any exposure there?

ANSWER: Jun 29 2009

Dear Madam,

it is always useful to have a blood lead test and I will forward you our Info Pack on the dangers of a blood lead level above 2 micrograms per decilitre to help you and your doctor to interpret the blood lead result. The blood lead test should certainly be your next step. Depending on the result, you may need to test suspect items in your home or hobbies, to find out where you are being exposed to lead today. I'd be interested to know what the drinking water lead levels were at home and at work. Do you drink rainwater in either location? Generally speaking, the older the house the higher the lead content in the paint (and the house dust and the garden). How old is your house? Do you grow your own vegies and herbs? Do you wash soil off them and peel root vegetables and discard the skins? You will see in our Info Pack what the symptoms of lead poisoning are and we also have a factsheet on health effects at Health Impacts of Lead Poisoning but the symptoms you describe are not the highlights of either the Info Pack or the factsheet so you might want to ask your doctor to also investigate possible causes of your symptoms in other ways than just the blood lead test. I will also send you a draft Info Pack we're putting together on Nutrition to Fight Lead Poisoning - and this will hopefully make you more aware of ways to improve your nutrition, not just in relation to lead but in case this helps with your other symptoms.

All the best

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

EMAIL TWO Sent: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 8:03 AM

Dear Madam,

thanks for your rapid response too! I'm pretty sure ACT's health department would need "guidance" on how to respond to an elevated blood lead level appropriately. I can help give that if it is needed! I've never heard of them having any particular action level but it's always worth asking, depending on your blood lead result. No health agency in Australia or anywhere else that I know, responds to hair lead levels.



EMAIL THREE Sent: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 8:30 AM

Dear Madam,

yes I do recommend further action when you have a blood lead level of 3 g/dL. Followed by another blood test (when the lead source abatement action is completed) to ensure that what you've changed has brought your blood lead level down. In other words, to eliminate the possibility that the lead in your blood is actually coming out of your bones as your bones demineralise with age, possibly due to inadequate calcium intake. The main reason we all have lead in our bones is because we've all breathed the air, and up until 2002, leaded petrol was used in motor vehicles. People who have renovated (or been present during renovation of) old houses in the usual (non lead-safe) way of dry-sanding or heatgunning or flame torching, will have even more lead stored in their bones.

For example, since your house was built in the 1930s, instead of wondering about the peeling paint in the bathroom, you could either test it for lead, or just simply have it removed in a lead-safe way. Also check your home for any chalking paint or dust coming off any leadlights or down from the ceiling void through cracks in the cornices etc, especially in areas where you may be able to get the lead dust into you, like in the kitchen where you prepare food. See our factsheet "Lead paint & ceiling dust management - how to do it lead-safely"

Secondly, nutritional intervention will be good for lowering your blood lead level and improving your health generally. Our volunteer researcher Robert Taylor has been very busy on Info pack 23 - nutrition to fight lead poisoning, so I will send you his latest version even though you've already received an earlier version previously.

I hope this helps and look forward to hearing from you in a couple of months (or earlier) with the good news that your blood lead level is less than 2 g/dL.

All the best


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