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QUESTION: Information on all the possible effects of lead on the human body & best tests for lead? 21/09/09 Northern Territory, Australia

I was on your site last Tuesday 15th September and found a section which listed all the possible effects of lead on the human body ranging from infants, children through to adults. It was a web based site with numbers beside each symptom corresponding to research papers. I failed to create a link when I found it and now cannot locate it anywhere. Could you please supply me with the appropriate link to this site.

On another point I noted an article in one of your newsletters rubbishing hair analysis for lead concentrations. I have had both hair and blood tests carried out over the past 7 years because I have suffered the symptoms of lead poisoning. A so-called specialist I was sent to also rubbished the hair analysis reports so I spent a lot of money and went to the U.S. and had x-ray florescence tests carried out on my bones. The hair tests were correct all along.

Blood analysis is only accurate for around 36 days from exposure and does not give a good indication of body burden.

EMAIL TWO Sent: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 7:54 AM

Thankyou for your response. I am glad I have found your site.

I was concerned about hair testing and outside contamination so I had pubic hair tested at the same time as scalp hair. They gave virtually the same readings and correlated well with blood lead results taken over a long period of time. I spoke with the people who did the testing in the USA and was informed that they have a very thorough washing procedure in order to remove outside contaminates.

In relation to my initial question what you have sent me is not the area I was looking for. The area was totally web based (not "word") and had long lists of effects with a number or numbers in brackets on the right side corresponding to references at the bottom of the page. You could hit the number and it would take you to the reference. I am particularly interested because I have had pain in the buttocks for some time and this was specifically mentioned.

Initial question.

"I was on your site last Tuesday 15th September and found a section which listed all the possible effects of lead on the human body ranging from infants, children through to adults. It was a web based site with numbers beside each symptom corresponding to research papers."

My exposure to lead has had a very debilitating affect on my life so I will consider drafting that letter.


EMAIL THREE Sent: Friday, September 25, 2009 8:05 AM

Information on all the possible effects of lead on the human body & best tests for lead


Thank you again for getting back to me. The information you and your website have provided has been very helpful.


ANSWER: Sep 21 2009

Dear Gregory,

thanks for your thoughtful email.

I wish everyone who needs to know their body burden of lead could afford to fly to the US to have XRF bone lead analysis. Failing that though, you cannot beat a series of blood lead tests to demonstrate exposure to lead over a long period of time. If I had my way, everyone who is exposed to lead WOULD have a blood lead test less than 36 days after the lead exposure episode. And if there is no other biological sample available, then a hair lead test can be used to demonstrate important things like the fact that Beethoven died of lead poisoning and suffered from it all his adult life. Someone has rung up my lead poisoning information service practically every fortnight or so during it's 18 years existence, to report a high hair lead level and very few of those people have ever rung back to say that their lead exposure was confirmed by testing of likely lead sources or testing of blood. It is unfortunate that lead is so prevalent in the world that it can be found on the outside of hair just as easily as it can be found IN hair. There is no standardised procedure for washing the lead off the outside of hair in order to accurately assess the lead level in the hair so I have come to take every report of a high hair lead level with a grain of salt. Doesn't it worry you that there is no standardised unit for reporting the amount of lead in hair and there are no studies relating health effects to hair lead levels - because you can't correlate health effects with something so heavily influenced by external contamination and variable washing and reporting procedures? By comparison, there are literally thousands of research papers on health effects correlated with blood lead levels and an ever-increasing number of papers correlating health effects with bone XRF lead levels. Your case of high hair lead and concomitant low blood lead level with follow-up high XRF bone lead level merely confirms the desperate need here in Australia for the state, territory and federal governments to police biological monitoring requirements in Occupational Health and Safety regulations, and to insist that doctors do more blood lead testing of non-occupationally-exposed lead-exposed people. And most importantly, to do a national blood lead survey of all ages to determine the target populations of people who are at higher risk for lead poisoning, for a doctor-education campaign.

You sound like the perfect person to send a letter outlining your experience and what it has cost you to find out about your lead exposure, to both the territory and federal health and industrial relations ministers requesting:- the purchase of an XRF bone lead machine for each capital city, or at least one machine for Australia;

  • - a national blood lead survey of all ages;
  • - doctor education about blood lead testing based on patients answers to a questionnaire (based on the results of the blood lead survey).

You are very welcome to refer the ministers to The LEAD Group's:

[although the attached copy is the corrected version that's not yet on our website because even though it's only a month old, every week we receive more research evidence that should be added to the factsheet and we don't have the staff to keep up!]

You are also very welcome to join any of our egroups / support groups that might be useful for you, for instance:

  1. LeadWorkers Egroup
  2. Lodged Lead Shot or Bullet Support (LLSBS) Egroup
  3. Lead Poisoned Adults Egroup (LPAE) See for the full list, or to join a group.

Thanks again for your feedback and questions. I hope you are on the road to recovery. Please let me know if there is any other information you require.

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

EMAIL TWO: Sent: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 1:22 PM

Sorry Greg,

when I wrote "the factsheet you have already seen: "Health Impacts of Lead Poisoning - A preliminary listing of the health effects & symptoms of lead poisoning" at " that's the one I meant would answer your initial question. It was somewhat lost in my long email. I am glad you wrote back because I should have explained that when I recommended a series of blood lead results over time as being a better measure of body burden than hair lead levels, I meant that there is emerging in research circles in the United States, a series of studies which correlate health effects with cumulative lead using a measure which is in microgram years per decilitre (g year/dL) and which visually-speaking, is the area under the curve of a blood lead graph over time for an individual. This concept has been incorporated into the most recent US occupational lead recommendations from such researchers as Brian Schwartz and Howard Hu. You could readily incorporate the following into a letter to your minister in charge of industrial relations or occupational health.

A g year/dL in lead exposure is one microgram of lead per decilitre of blood for a period of one year. The recent mini-monograph in the March 2007 Environmental Health Perspectives included the article "Adult Lead Exposure: Time for Change" by Brian S. Schwartz and Howard Hu (see Environ Health Perspect. 2007 March; 115(3): 451454. Published online 2006 December 22) and concludes (in part):

"The growing body of scientific evidence suggests that occupational standards should limit recent dose to prevent the acute effects of lead and separately limit cumulative dose to prevent the chronic effects of lead." "We would favor limits that keep blood lead levels < 20 g/dL to prevent the acute effects of recent dose. For the prevention of the chronic health effects of cumulative dose, the available evidence suggests maintaining the cumulative blood lead index below approximately 200-400ug-years/dL (equivalent to an average blood lead level of 20 g/dL for 10-20years or of 10 g/dL for 20-40 years)."

If you do get an answer back from any Minister about lead, I'd be very grateful if you'd send it to me.

It's great to know there's someone out there who cares about the long-term health of the next generation of police officers.

I'm attaching the Dangers factsheet 'Roberts, O'Brien & Taylor Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 g/dL [two micrograms per decilitre] and below 10 g/dL to both adults and children' again (updated 14 March 2011). I'm also attaching another factsheet that may be of interest to you, re Lead Exposure & Alzheimers Disease: Is There A Link?.

Kind regards


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