Far West LHD BH Lead Health Program 2021 Annual Report released
While population blood lead levels fluctuate from year to year, the underlying trend continues that levels have not changed significantly since 2012, according to the latest Lead Report by the Far West Local Health District.
However, in 2021 less than half (32%) of the children aged 1 to <5 years and only 7% of children aged 6 months to < 12 months had a notifiable blood lead level (≥5 μg/dL).
Significant outcomes in the 2021 annual lead health report were:
- 561 children had at least one test, a decrease of 19% from children tested in 2020 due to a recall of POCT (Point of Care Testing) strips and COVID restrictions.
- While the total number of children tested in 2021 decreased, the number of children in the <5 ug/dL category is greater than seen in previous years. The proportion of children in categories above 5 decreased compared to all previous years.
- The geometric lead mean level (age-gender standardized) for all children (1 to < 5 years) was 3.6 ug/dL, compared to 4.7 ug/dL in 2020.
- The proportion of all children with blood lead levels under the benchmark (<5 μg/dL) has risen from 13% in 2000 to 68% in 2021.
- The mean result for Aboriginal children decreased from 7.7 ug/dL in 2020 to 5.5 ug/dL in 2021.
- In 2021, a total of 160 newborn cord bloods were successfully tested for lead content and the geometric mean was 0.7 ug/dL – compared to 0.6 ug/dL in 2020 and 0.7 ug/dL in 2019 and 2018. All newborns (except two) had blood lead levels below the notifiable level.
The 2021 annual lead health report stated that the Lead Testing Program performed well during 2021 and despite COVID-19 restrictions, testing numbers of children being screened for blood lead levels only declined in children aged 6 months and over with the POCT strip recall from September.
While population blood lead levels fluctuate from year to year, the underlying trend has been that levels have not changed significantly since 2012.
With COVID-19 lockdown restrictions from mid-August the Child and Family Health Centre decided to minimize client visits to only children presenting for immunization and/or yearly health check. Only these children would be then be offered lead testing. This may have affected screening attendances, but the number of children screened, before the POCT recall, would suggest otherwise.
In 2020 parents reported that recommended COVID-19 preventative measures like hand hygiene, reinforced the behaviour for children as well as adults. COVID-19 restrictions in 2021 gave families time for home renovations and housecleaning, consequently asking C&FHC how to do these in a lead safe manner. Many aspects of the BH Environmental Lead Program, including dust monitoring, internal home remediation and testing of landscape supplies were stopped during the lockdown (18 August – 11 November), or curtailed (eg, the indoor air HEPA - high efficiency filter - filter study) in 2021.
The release of the 2021 Lead Report is a timely reminder to parents and carers that all children should continue to be tested annually until they are 5 years old, and a great time to do this is when children are getting their childhood immunisations.
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 2021 – Broken Hill Children less than 5 years old will be available at www.fwlhd.health.nsw.gov.au