Draft paper on the health effects of lead released for consultation

Summary media release information

15 July 2014
NHMRC Media Release
Contact for further information: 
NHMRC Media Team: 0422 008 512 or media@nhmrc.gov.au

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has today released a draft Information Paper ‘Evidence on the effects of lead on human health’ for public consultation.

The draft paper was prepared by an expert working committee and is based on the findings of an independent systematic review of recent evidence, also published today.

Key findings and recommendations of the draft Information Paper include:

  • National policy should continue to minimise the amount of artificially introduced lead in our environments.
  • It is not possible to tell whether low level exposure has meaningful adverse health effects, but there is no ‘safe’ level of lead that has been proven not to cause any health problems.
  • Blood lead levels above five micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL) indicate that a person may have been exposed to additional sources of lead, as this is higher than trace amounts typically found in the everyday environment. These additional sources of exposure should be investigated and reduced, especially for young children and pregnant women.
  • Individuals do not need to have their blood lead levels tested unless there is a reason to suspect they have been exposed to lead contaminated substances.

Chair of the Lead Working Committee, Associate Professor Sophie Dwyer, reiterated that the paper did not suggest that 5 µg/dL is a safe level.

‘Lead is a naturally occurring substance in the environment but there is no evidence to show it is beneficial to human health. As such, there is no level considered safe - 5 µg/dL is simply an indicator used to determine unusual exposure that is cause for investigation,’ Associate Professor Dwyer said.

According to NHMRC CEO Professor Warwick Anderson, it is important that the draft information paper goes out for public consultation.

‘Once finalised, this paper will be an important resource for health practitioners and policy makers. It will also advise the community on the risks of lead exposure, so it is essential the messages in the document are clear and address community concern,’ he said.

The draft paper will remain open for consultation until 14 September 2014. Once all submissions have been considered, the information paper will be finalised and the 2009 NHMRC Public Statement on blood lead levels will be revised.