A Trail watchdog program is headed in the right direction. But there’s always further to go because health-wise – no lead is good lead.
The Trail Area Health & Environment Committee (THEC) presented results from this fall’s blood lead testing clinic Tuesday, and keeping with the ongoing trend, the average blood lead level in toddlers is on the decline.
Results from 119 children, aged six to 36 months in Trail and Rivervale, tested an average 4.3 µg/dL (micrograms per decilitre) compared to last year’s 4.9 ug/dL.
Overall, 89 per cent of the youngsters tested were below THEC’s mandate of 10 ug/dL. Those results mean the program is within striking distance of its 2015 goal of an average of 4 µg/dL and 95 per cent of children testing below 10 µg/dL.
“There’s nothing magical about the 10 ug/dL range and there’s nothing magical about five,” noted Dr. Robert Parker, Medical Health Officer with Interior Health. “But we know that nobody needs lead in their body and it’s not helpful in anyway. Science keeps coming in showing that even low levels can have subtle neurological effects in children, so the goal is to continue reducing lead levels.”
He acknowledged that some children test as low as one or two and others in the six to 10 range, which is the reason THEC tests that demographic each year.
If a child does show serum lead in the higher range, public health and a team of community-led services, follow up with the family to suggest modifications to effectively lower the blood lead count.
Simple changes such as more frequent hand washing can help although there are cases requiring more complex interventions like certain home renovations and soil remediation.
“That’s the thing, there is local variations from block to block at times,” said Parker. “We’ll look at the child’s behaviour and surroundings and parental activities. We do repeat testing once they make modifications around the house and other activities, to make sure lead levels are coming down.”
Although the Trail trend continues to go down, there will be an even smaller variable coming to the program next year.
The American organization that sets public health policy and practice on acceptable lead levels has modified the national standards to a blood-lead level of five micrograms per decilitre of blood (mg/dl), down from 10.
What the new goal will be is not set, says Parker, but moving a plan forward will involve community consultation and discussion about what level will be achievable.
“We see a spectrum in all individuals including the kids’ levels,” explained Parker. “The community average is 4.3 ug/dL which is very good in terms of a long term trend.”
He maintains the next gain for the community in terms of reducing lead exposure is the fugitive dust program at Teck Trail Operations.
“That’s what is going to bring lead levels down even further,” he said. “It all points to that we are going in the right direction which is to reduce blood lead levels to as low as we can get them.”