Blood lead levels for all children and Aboriginal children in Broken Hill rose slightly in 2015 but screening participation is still high and children aged between 1 and 5 remain on average within new blood lead level benchmarks, according to the latest Lead Level Report by the Far West Local Health District.
The 2015 Lead Level Report finding of an increase in blood lead levels in all children (47% and 79% for Aboriginal children) is reported against a new benchmark of 5µg/dL introduced by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in 2015. The NSW Health notifiable blood lead level in 2015 was 10µg/dL.
Dr Therese Jones, Far West LHD Director of Population Health, said whilst the findings are reflective of the new benchmark and present new challenges, screening participation remains high, cord blood lead levels decreased and average lead levels in children remain within the 5-6µg/dL range.
Significant outcomes in the 2015 annual lead health report were:
- There were 679 children (178 Aboriginal and 501 non-Aboriginal) tested – 40 children fewer than in 2014.
- The population age-sex standardized blood lead level mean was 5.8µg/dL, a slight increase from 2014 but similar to 2013.
- The Aboriginal population blood lead level mean was 9.3µg/dL, an increase from previous years.
- Of 177 babies’ cord bloods tested, the geometric mean was 1.1µg/dL.
- The proportion of all children, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children with blood lead levels above the current NHMRC benchmark of ≤5µg/dL was 47%, 79% and 35% respectively.
- The proportion of all children, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children with blood lead levels above the then NSW Health notifiable level for 2015 of ≥10µg/dL was 24%, 49% and 14% respectively.
Dr Jones said the alignment of immunisation and blood lead testing, and a strengthening of the partnership between the Child and Family Health Centre and Maari Ma have been major factors in reversing the previous decline in children’s participation in screening.
However, reducing blood lead levels among Aboriginal children to match those of non-Aboriginal children remains a challenge.
“The report indicates that 65% of non-Aboriginal children had a blood lead level of <5µg/dL, compared to only 21% of Aboriginal children. Reducing blood lead levels among children in Broken Hill, against the new benchmark, and especially Aboriginal children, will continue to be a challenge,” said Dr Jones.
In mid-2015 Broken Hill received $13 million from the New South Wales government for lead abatement over 5 years overseen by the Environment Protection Authority, Far West LHD and Broken Hill Lead Reference Group.
Dr Jones said the emphasis of the Broken Hill Environmental Lead Program on further lead abatement and environmental activities adds an extra dimension to the current prevention and management strategies. The renewed program should also help maintain long term momentum in the community to support childhood screening and engage in lead reduction activities, with the primary aim of decreasing blood lead levels in children.
Dr Jones added the release of the 2015 report is also a timely reminder to parents and carers that all children should be tested yearly until they are 5 years old.
Blood lead testing is free and available at the Child & Family Health Centre and Maari Ma Primary Health. The Child & Family Health Centre can be contacted on 8080 1100 and Maari Ma Primary Health on 8082 9777.
NSW Health provides a range of resources including factsheets, response protocols and DIY sources to address elevated blood lead levels at www.health.nsw.gov.au.
The Far West Local Health District Lead Health Report 2015 – Children less than 5 years old in Broken Hill is available at www.leadsmart.nsw.gov.au . (Best viewed using Google Chrome) and at www.fwlhd.health.nsw.gov.au