8 Nov 2012

Australian lead levels in blood may be high

11:23 am on 8 November 2012

An estimated 100,000 children in Australia may have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.

The Australian standard - set in 1993 - mirrors the World Health Organisation guideline of 10 micrograms of lead per decilitre of blood.

Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, Professor Chris Winder of the Australian Catholic University and two colleagues say that while Australia's lead level "recommendations" have not changed in almost 20 years, the science has.

The ABC reports that research from the United States and Europe suggests exposures at even very low levels can cause lower intelligence, learning difficulties and other problems in children.

Professor Winder has been researching the effects of lead since 1979 and says the current Australian standard for safe levels is out of date.

"There's been a review by the American toxic and disease review people, there's been a review by the national toxicology program of the United States, there's been a review of the centre for disease control, there's been a review by the World Health Organisation," he told the ABC.

"What are we waiting for?"

"I do think now that evidence is available that 10 (micrograms of lead per decilitre of blood) is too high and we need to bring it down," he said.

"The Americans have gone to five and the Germans 3.6. I'd like the National Health & Medical Research Council to be honest and get a number that is appropriate for Australian conditions."

"Now we've got better evidence to suggest the effects are occurring lower," he said.

"The neurological development of children includes things like memory, ability to study, they're more likely to be distracted, verbal skills, a whole load of different neurological end points which appear to be impaired by levels of lead which are now below the NHMRC recommended level."

The ABC reports the NHMRC issued an information and public statement paper on blood lead levels in 2009. It says an updated paper will be available in late 2013 early 2014.