Safety and first aid

Lead exposure – minimising the health risks associated with lead in Northampton soils

Shire of Northampton residents are more likely to be exposed to lead than the general Western Australian population. Naturally occurring mineralised lead is widely distributed throughout the Northampton Shire. The town and the surrounding districts have a long history of lead mining and processing of these localised pockets of heavily mineralised soils.

If you know or suspect that there are lead tailings or any other forms of lead on your property, you can protect your family from the health risks of lead by avoiding exposure and minimising lead absorption by taking the following precautions.

Eat plenty of healthy food

Diet can have a major impact on how much lead is absorbed into the body. Consuming a balanced diet and forming healthy eating habits can help minimise the absorption of lead into the body.

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet with adequate levels of calcium, iron, vitamin C, zinc and magnesium helps to minimise lead absorption. Good sources of iron include poultry, red meat, liver, fish, fortified cereal, cooked beans/lentils, and green leafy vegetables. Milk, cheese and yoghurt are good sources of calcium.
  • Young children need frequent meals and snacks – a child with an empty stomach can absorb 7 times more lead than a child who has eaten.
  • Avoid high fat diets as they increase lead absorption.
  • Do not eat or drink after working with lead or materials containing lead, until you have thoroughly washed your hands.
  • Do not use pottery or ceramic products purchased overseas unless you are certain they are safe for storing or cooking food. These products may be coated in lead glazes or paints which may leach lead into food.

If you are concerned that you or a member of your family may have been exposed to lead from soil or tailings, contact your doctor to discuss a blood test to determine lead levels.

Focus on personal and home hygiene
  • Hand to mouth activity is more common in young children so regular hand-washing will reduce the potential for lead absorption.
  • Develop good habits by washing hands whenever you come inside from the garden or have been playing outside, before you eat or drink, and after touching pets. Use soap and water every time, and make sure hands are dry as damp hands will pick up lead dust. Regularly brush under fingernails and keep them neat and short.
  • Regularly damp mop and wipe hard surfaces, bench tops, furniture, toys and window sills (especially areas where children have access). Rinse cloths and mops frequently. Avoid sweeping as it raises dusts to spread through the house.
  • Effective regular vacuuming is recommended. High efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum cleaners will prevent dust being re-released back into your home.
  • Wash children’s toys thoroughly with soapy water if they have been outside, especially toys and dummies (pacifiers) that are likely to be put in a child’s mouth. Special precautions are necessary for plush toys that are difficult to wash daily.
  • Wash and brush family pets outside on a regular basis to minimise the amount of dust coming in on their fur. Do not let them sleep on beds or furniture, especially if babies and children live in the house as well.
  • Always remember to wash all fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating or cooking.
Restrict access to lead
  • Cover or seal lead tailings or heavily mineralised soil. Depending on the location and how often the area is used, consider sealing the contaminated area with mulch, pine chips, concrete, paving or gravel.
  • If soil contains lead, consider covering it with a layer of clean-fill and planting natives, ground covers or grass to restrict contact with your family and pets.
  • Don’t allow children to eat on the floor or ground unless a barrier, like a clean sheet, towel or blanket is placed down first. Babies may play outside on a rug or blanket, followed by thoroughly washing and drying hands afterwards.
  • Rainwater should not be used for preparation of baby formula, baby foods, or sterilisation of baby equipment.
  • Drinking rainwater is not recommended without regular testing of rainwater tanks confirms that lead is not present.
  • Cover sandpits when not in use to reduce contamination by lead dust and to keep out animals from using it as a toilet. Reinforced canvas, vinyl or polymesh mesh and wood are recommended.
Keep dust out
  • Avoid walking lead dust or dirt into your home by placing durable mats at all entrances. Regularly clean the mats. Leave work boots and yard shoes outside.
  • Empty vacuum bags and dust collected from floors, pathways and mats into a plastic bag while outside before placing the waste in an external bin.
  • Close all doors and windows when you leave the house, and on windy days, to prevent dust from entering your home. Ensure all door and window seals work effectively and that your air conditioner is cleaned regularly.
  • Seal cracks in the ceilings of older homes. If there is a source of lead near your house, lead dust may fall through these cracks into living areas.
  • Avoid hanging clothes outside on windy days when there is more dust in the air or overnight as the moisture in the air will encourage dust to settle on your clothes.
  • Make sure cots and children’s beds are placed away from regularly opened windows and external doors.

Where to get help

  • For health-related queries contact the MidWest public health physician on (08) 9956 1978.
  • Environmental Health Directorate staff can assist in managing lead exposures from the environment. Please call 9388 4999 for more information.
  • For queries on environmental impacts of lead, contact the Department of Environment Regulation’s Contaminated Sites Branch on 1300 762 982.

Acknowledgements

Public Health


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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