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Thursday, 6 March 1980
Page: 613

Senator PETER BAUME (NEW SOUTH WALES) -I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is the study from the Univesity of New South Wales entitled 'Lead Burden of Sydney School Children' substantially correct when it purports to demonstrate that 42 per cent of children at a Mascot school and 22 per cent of children at a Mosman school had in excess of 25 micrograms of lead per 100 millilitres of blood? Are these levels of lead matters of concern? Is the Minister able to indicate what the implications in this study are for the health of Australian children?


I understand from the Minister for Health that the study entitled 'Lead Burden of Sydney School Children' published in January 1979 indicated that 42 per cent of children at a Mascot school and 26 per cent of children at a Mosman school had blood-lead levels above 25 micrograms of lead per 100 millilitres of blood in the spring 1974 survey. The corresponding figures for the autumn 1975 survey were 18 per cent and 14 per cent respectively. It was found that 1 1.5 per cent of all the Sydney school children surveyed in the spring survey and 3.3 per cent of those surveyed in the autumn survey had blood-lead levels above 30 micrograms per 100 millilitres.

I am also advised that the National Health and Medical Research Council has indicated that a level of 30 micrograms per 100 millilitres of blood should be considered as a level of concern. The Council recognised the varying contributions made to the total lead burden from food, water, air and other ingested substances and considered that it was desirable to reduce the total lead intake. The Minister for Health advises that the Garnys, Freeman and Smythe report has been challenged, particularly on its findings and conclusions relating to the effects of elevated blood-lead levels. This should not detract from its importance in being a major survey relating to Australian conditions. Overseas studies, such as the Needleman study in the United States of America, have indicated neuropsychological deficits in children with elevated dentine lead levels. The two studies are not directly comparable because of the different lead level markers assayed.

No doubt the honourable senator is aware of the complexities of the current debate in relation to health effects and body lead burden and the problems associated with the recognition of its subclinical effects. The debate relating health effects to various body lead levels will continue. However, it would seem to be significant that levels previously thought to be safe are now being suggested as capable of producing adverse effects.

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