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A 25-year record of childhood blood lead exposure and its relationship to environmental sources

Dong, Chenyin, Taylor, Mark Patrick, Gulson, Brian
Environmental research 2020 v.186 pp. 109357
blood, childhood, children, cleaning, data collection, dust, dust emissions, exposure pathways, lead, mining, monitoring, regression analysis, silver, socioeconomic status, soil, soil remediation, Australia
Broken Hill, the oldest silver (Ag)–zinc (Zn)–lead (Pb) mining community in Australia, has a legacy and ongoing problem of environmental Pb exposure that was identified as early as 1893. To reduce Pb exposure risks, identifying potential exposure pathways and related factors is a critical first step. This study examined blood lead (PbB) levels of children ≤60 months old (n = 24,106 samples), along with Pb concentrations in corresponding soil (n = 10,160 samples), petri-dish dust (n = 106 houses) and ceiling dust (n = 80 houses) over a 25-year period from 1991 to 2015. Regression analysis was used to examine the relationships between environmental Pb sources and children's blood lead (PbB) outcomes. Analysis of the dataset showed Aboriginal children in Broken Hill had a geometric mean PbB of 7.4 μg/dL (95% CI: 6.7–7.4) being significantly higher (p < 0.01) than non-Aboriginal children (PbB 6.2 μg/dL, 95% CI: 6.2–6.3) for all years between 1991 and 2015. Children at the age of 24–36 months had a higher PbB compared with other age groups. Higher PbB levels were also statistically associated with lower socio-economic status and children living in houses built before 1940 (p < 0.01). Blood Pb was also significantly correlated with both soil Pb and indoor petri-dish dust Pb loadings, confirming that these are important pathways for exposure in Broken Hill. A 100 mg/kg increase in soil Pb was associated with a 0.12 μg/dL increase in childhood PbB. In addition, PbB concentrations increased with indoor petri-dish dust Pb loadings (i.e., 0.08 μg/dL per 100 μg/m²/30 days). The 25-year data show that the risk of exposure at ≥ 10 μg/dL was seemingly unavoidable irrespective of residential address (i.e., children of all ages presenting with a ≥10 μg/dL across the whole city area). In terms of moving forward and mitigating harmful early-life Pb exposures, all children aged 24–36 months should be prioritised for feasible and effective intervention practices. Primary intervention must focus on mitigating contemporary ongoing dust emissions from the mining operations and the associated mine-lease areas along with household soil remediation, to help prevent recontamination of homes. Additional practices of dust cleaning using wet mopping and wiping techniques, vacuuming of carpets and furnishings, ongoing monitoring of children and household dust remain important but short-lived abatement strategies. Overall, the key goal should be to eliminate risk by removing contamination in the wider environment as well as in individual homes.