Image courtesy of Prof Mark Taylor
Image courtesy of Prof Mark Taylor

New recommendations regarding blood lead levels

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released new recommendations regarding blood lead levels in Australia. The NHMRC now recommends the source of lead contamination be investigated if people, particularly children and pregnant women, display blood lead levels greater than 5 micrograms per decilitre. The last time the NHMRC lowered the recommended blood lead level was in 1993, when it went from 25 micrograms per decilitre to 10 micrograms per decilitre.

Emeritus Professor Brian Gulson of the Faculty of Science and Engineering was on the NHMRC committee that revised the blood lead standard. Professor Gulson pioneered applying lead isotopic analysis to lead contamination in the human body and the environment during his time at Macquarie University. Research into contemporary environmental lead contamination problems in Australian communities continues to be undertaken by Macquarie’s Professor Mark Taylor and his research team in the Department of Environmental Sciences. Professor Taylor has engaged actively in science-based advocacy in regard to his research and public policy.

Researchers at Macquarie advocated for an adjustment to the NHMRC recommendations in 2009. Three Macquarie researchers were included on the Perth Declaration – Professor Mark Taylor, Dr Carolyn Schniering (Dept of Psychology) and Emeritus Professor Brian Gulson.

Subsequent to that meeting, Professor Taylor along with the late Professor Chris Winder (Australian Catholic University) and Professor Bruce Lanphear (Simon Fraser University) executed a program of science-based advocacy and research to help drive change that included a research forum in 2012 at Macquarie University.

The change in the NHMRC recommendation is a milestone in public health for Australia. Macquarie University’s long term and consistent environmental research in the area of environmental lead contamination in humans and the environment has contributed to the evidence for policy change that will benefit children into the future.

Professor Mark Taylor welcomed the announcement but does not believe it goes far enough because the new policy focuses on managing suspected cases of lead exposure, rather than a universal reduction of ongoing contamination of lead exposure.

Professor Taylor and his research team continue to conduct research into the sources of lead contamination and Professor Taylor notes that the US Centers for Disease Control say “there is no evidence of a ‘threshold’ or safe exposure” for lead.

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