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Lead and lead poisoning

Lead poisoning in Auckland

Lead poisoning symptoms

Exposure to lead can result in lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can be serious and may cause many health issues and symptoms:
    • Effects on the brain – mood changes (depression, irritability), memory loss, sleep disturbance, headaches, difficulty concentrating, tingling and numbness in fingers and hands.
    • Effects on the digestive system – lack of appetite, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach pains and weight loss. Lead. Reproduced with permission from the Wikipedia Commons.
    • Other effects – kidney damage, reduction in sperm quality and number, miscarriage and anaemia.
    • In severe cases, people can suffer convulsions, coma, delirium and eventually death.

    Some causes of Lead Poisoning in Auckland

    In Auckland, the most common causes of lead poisoning from domestic and recreational use are:

    • Indoor shooting.
    • Casting of lead bullets, fish sinkers and diving weights.
    • Lead smelting.
    • Paint‐stripping on houses built pre‐1980s.
    • Consumption of herbal and Ayurvedic medicines which contain lead.

    Non‐occupational poisonings are investigated by the public health service (Auckland Regional Public Health Service).Removal of lead based paint. Image courtesy of the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.


    In the workplace, there may be various exposures to lead.

    Examples of occupations where lead exposure may occur include:

    • Painting.
    • Smelting.
    • Plumbing.
    • Panel beating.
    • Battery manufacture.
    • Soldering.
    • Radiator repairs.

    Cases of work place lead poisoning are investigated by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (previously the Department of Labour).

    Lead Paint and Lead Poisoning

    Exposure to lead paint is a leading cause of lead poisoning in children and adults. Young children (particularly those under five years old) are more likely to ingest the paint (as it may taste sweet) or lead contaminated soil. Adults are more likely to have inhaled lead fumes (from using a heat gun to remove paint) or dust (from sanding paint). 

    Safe Removal of Lead-based Paint

    Lead-based paint can be safely removed by following the guidelines in the fact sheets below.

    Lead Paint Testing

    Auckland Regional Public Health Service does some lead paint testing in homes where lead poisoning has been shown to occur.  This is done to help identify whether lead paint has contributed to the lead poisoning. For more details, please read the Auckland Regional Public Health Service Lead Paint and Lead Poisoning fact sheet.

    If you have paint samples you wish to test, consider purchasing a lead paint test kit. Paint stores often have test kits for instant testing of customer samples, or for purchase.

    Soil Contamination

    If the building is old consider whether soil near the building may have been contaminated with lead based paint flakes or dust in the past. As a precaution avoid accessing soil up to 1 meter from buildings.

    Vegetables grown in soil that may have been contaminated should be washed thoroughly to remove all traces of dirt.

    Lead poisoning and some Asian Alternative medicine

    ARPHS has been notified of several cases of lead poisoning resulting from the use of Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine, and some Chinese medicine. A past analysis demonstrated that 20% of Ayurvedic medicines purchased in Boston, USA, contained substantial amounts of heavy metals, mainly lead. Alternative medicines are often classed as dietary supplements, and may not comply with the same safety standards as conventional medicine. Ayurvedic medicines from an investigation in Auckland. These were tested for lead and later results indicated that some of these contained lead. Source: Auckland Regional Public Health Service.

    Asian alternative medicines and products that may contain lead and other heavy metals:

    • Ayurvedic medicines
    • Chinese traditional medicines
    • Skin-whitening products
    • Some ceremonial powders (sindoor).

    Health advice regarding these products

    • Only purchase medicines where the contents are clearly listed and known to be safe.
    • Buying Ayurvedic and other alternative medicines over the internet is not recommended.
    • Consult a qualified doctor or pharmacist before taking an alternative medicine.
    • Seek immediate medical attention if you become unwell while taking an alternative medicine.

    Lead poisoning and shooting ranges.

    Please see below for detailed fact sheets on lead exposure in shooting ranges and guidelines for shooting range operators.

    What you should do if you think you may have lead poisoning

    Anyone with symptoms of lead poisoning or who is concerned about their own exposure to lead should see their GP, who may request a blood lead level.  People with high lead levels are usually managed by their GPs, and treatment (chelation therapy) may require hospitalization for severe cases.  The local Public Health Unit will conduct an environmental questionnaire to determine the source(s) of lead exposure and advise people on how best to prevent further exposure to lead.


    Useful links

    Downloads

    Lead for Shooters

    Lead Paint

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