Blood lead levels in Aboriginal children have significantly reduced whilst lead levels in non-Aboriginal children have increased, according to the latest Lead Report by the Far West Local Health District.
The 2016 Lead Report also reported more Aboriginal children were screened – the highest number screened to date – but that less non-Aboriginal children were screened for the year.
Broken Hill Health Service General Manager, Mr Ken Barnett, said whilst there are improvements in Aboriginal children results, the proportion of Aboriginal children in all lead level categories above 5 ug/dL remain higher compared to non-Aboriginal children.
Significant outcomes in the 2016 annual lead health report were:
- 687 children were screened (an increase of 8 from 2015) which included 207 Aboriginal and 480 non-Aboriginal children.
- The 207 Aboriginal children tested represented an increase of 16% (from 178) and the highest number screened on record. The 480 non-Aboriginal children tested represented a reduction of 4% (from 501).
- The geometric lead mean level (age-sex standardized) for all children (1 to 4 years) increased slightly from 5.8 ug/dL in 2015 to 5.9 ug/dL in 2016.The Aboriginal population blood lead level mean improved significantly with a decrease from 9.3 to 7.6 ug/dL in 2016.
- The non-Aboriginal population blood lead level mean increased from 4.9 in 2015 to 5.2 ug/dL.
- The gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal blood lead level mean reduced by 45% – 4.4 in 2015 to 2.4 in 2016.
In April 2016 the NSW Ministry of Health endorsed the revised National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines for the notification of blood lead levels from 10 ug/dL to 5 ug/dL. The report uses the revised notification figures and reports on the proportion of children with blood lead levels under 5 ug/dL. The 2016 report found:
- The proportion children with blood lead levels below the notifiable level of 5.0 ug/dL remained stable – 43% in 2015 and 42% in 2016.
- A large gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – 22% compared to 50% respectively.
- Improvements in Aboriginal children – 17% below 5 ug/dL, rising to 22% in 2016.
- Decrease in non-Aboriginal children – 54% below 5 ug/dL, falling to 50% in 2016.
In relation to previous NHMRC notifiable blood lead level of 10 ug/dL, there has been an improvement with an increase in the proportion of all children with a level below 10 ug/dL from 76% in 2015 to 80% in 2016.
Mr Barnett said the report outlined improvements in some areas but challenges for managing blood lead levels in Broken Hill children that are above the new guidelines include:
- Ensuring all children continue to be screened and that screening data is collected and reported for all children, including Aboriginal children;
- Ensuring the community continues to engage in lead remediation activities;
- Ensuring that active research into effectiveness of strategies employed continues to direct the way the lead testing program is run, and
- Maintaining long term momentum in the community to support childhood screenings in the first five years of life once the NSW Government funded BH Environmental Lead Program finishes in 2020.
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. The Broken Hill Lead Steering Committee is made up of representatives from the EPA, Far West LHD and Broken Hill Lead Reference Group.
Mr Barnett added the release of the 2016 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 Report 2016 – Broken Hill Children less than 5 years old is available at www.fwlhd.health.nsw.gov.au