From Monday, Hunter New England Health will offer free blood lead screening to children between the ages of six months and five years, and pregnant women living in Boolaroo, Speers Point and Argenton.
The screening will take place at 51 Main Road, Boolaroo from 29 June 2015 for three weeks. To make an appointment, parents and pregnant women can book online at leadscreen.info or call 4924 6477.
Hunter New England Health Public Health Physician Dr Craig Dalton said the blood screening has been designed to be less invasive and more convenient for local families.
“The screening involves a simple finger prick, which is less likely to be distressing for young children and families will be given the results immediately,” said Dr Dalton.
Blood lead levels in children under the age of five rapidly decreased after the Pasminco smelter’s closure. The percentage of children under five years with blood lead levels exceeding 10µg/dl was 40% from 1997 to 2003, 26% in 2004, 17% in 2005 and 7% in 2006.
“It is likely that the downward trend will have continued in subsequent years but it’s important that we screen and make sure,” said Dr Dalton.
Lead can cause long-term health impacts, especially for young children and unborn babies, leading to learning and attention problems, hearing loss, slowed growth and behavioural problems.
The risk of health effects from lead exposure increases with the level of exposure.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) still considers that there is good evidence for adverse health impacts if a person has a blood lead level 10µg/dl or greater, but now also recommends that at 5 µg/dl or greater, the source of lead exposure should be investigated.
If a result of 5µg/dl or greater is registered for a specific child or pregnant woman, then a repeat test through a traditional blood sample will be completed to confirm the result. This will be followed by further assessment and specific information about how to reduce blood lead levels.
Outside of this screening program, GPs that service the North Lake Macquarie area are also reminded to test children and pregnant women who may be exposed to lead in the environment.