People living in Esperance in Western Australia should not be alarmed by the finding of raised levels of lead in their blood, according to an internationally recognised toxicologist at the University of Newcastle.
Professor Alison Jones* is working with relevant government authorities in Western Australia, including the Western Australian Department of Health and the Port Authority, to assess and reduce the risk of lead poisoning for the residents of Esperance.
Independent toxicologist Professor Jones said concerns were raised after airborne lead dust contaminated a large area around the town of Esperance.
"While blood tests have revealed measurable levels of lead in the blood of people living in Esperance, these levels are not dangerously high and do not require chelation therapy to remove the lead. The levels in Esperance are not as high as those of people living near lead smelters.
"People should not be alarmed, but should take measures to reduce ongoing lead exposure. It's important that we focus on reducing the level of lead and monitoring the two groups who are most susceptible to the risks of lead - children aged five and under, and pregnant women."
Professor Jones said the key to reducing the level of lead in the blood was ensuring safe drinking water and employing dust reduction strategies in the home.
"As the contamination has occurred through airborne lead dust, it's advisable that people do not drink water from rain water tanks until further notice. People in Esperance should drink tap or bore water only.
"The Western Australian Department of Health has released guidelines to assist people to clean their homes. Techniques such as wet mopping and using a special type of vacuum (HEPA) available through the Department of Health will assist in removing the lead dust. Implementation and continued use of these dust reduction strategies should result in a substantial fall in blood lead concentrations, which will be closely monitored."
Professor Jones said she would be involved in assessing the results of the lead level monitoring among residents in Esperance, especially those in the two susceptible groups. She will return to Esperance at the end of the month and will be on hand to talk to residents when the results of the next blood tests are available in mid July.
* Professor Alison Jones is Professor of Medicine and Clinical Toxicology at the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute. She is also a clinician at the Calvary Mater Newcastle Hospital and responsible for providing education and toxicology advice to clinicians.