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UPDATED: Blood lead levels in Trail children down

Average blood lead levels in Trail and Rivervale infants is down this year compared to last, according to the program tasked with reducing them.

The Trail Area Health and Environment Committee says among children aged aged six to 36 months, the 2022 level was 2.3 micrograms per decilitre.

Although there has been some fluctuation over the last few years, the average has remained below three since 2018: 2.5 in 2021, 2.3 in 2020, 2.6 in 2019 and 2.9 in 2018.

The group says the participation rate at voluntary clinics declined during the pandemic, but has improved since last year.

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“I am pleased to note that the 2022 blood lead clinics reported some of the lowest blood lead values to date, with no child having a blood lead above 10 micrograms per decilitre,” said Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Karin Goodison in a news release. “We will continue to work collaboratively towards further reductions in environmental exposure to lead.”

In an interview, Goodison added that in the 1990s, the average level was close to 15. She said the threshold for what is considered safe has changed over time. At one point, it was as high as 40, and until about a decade ago it was thought that anything under 10 was safe for humans. However, further data now indicates that levels as low as one or two may have negative health impacts.

She said even children living in places not close to a smelter would not have levels of zero because of both naturally occurring lead as well as lead left over primarily from leaded gasoline. Even though it was phased out in Canada in 1990, it remains in soil, particularly near roadways and in larger cities.

Goodison said it gets more difficult to push average levels in Trail down as they get closer to typical levels for children in different environments, but there are things they can do.

The program recently approved a plan to further reduce blood lead levels by limiting exposure and adopting practices such as handwashing before eating, ensuring an iron rich diet and keeping floors dust-free.

“This is a nice collaborative effort with the City of Trail, Teck, the Ministry of Environment, with health and people who live in the community to think of ways to progressively achieve lower exposures for children to lead in the environment,” Goodison said.

Michelle Laurie, the committee’s lead facilitator, said one area to consider is the built environment: homes, daycares, and other places where children spend time. Even fences, garages, and lead-based paint have come up as potential sources, given the city’s older housing stock.

She said that they have been in touch with other communities facing similar challenges, who look at Trail as a model.

“Our experience has been very positive and the health of the community has improved greatly since the late 1980s. Other communities are looking to us to share our experiences and to learn from what we’ve been doing here.”

The group’s air quality program, managed by Teck Trail operations, also says the year-to-date average for lead in the air is the lowest ever at 0.06 micrograms per cubic metre.

While there are no Canadian air quality objectives or standards for lead, the program uses standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The air in the community has met that target the last two years.

“I’m pleased to report that we continue to see improvements as a result of our ongoing focus on the fugitive dust reduction program and our year-to-date ambient air quality results are on track to be the lowest annual levels ever recorded,” said Dan Bouillon, Teck’s environmental manager at Trail operations.

The Trail Area Health and Environment Committee was established in 2001 by the Trail Lead Task Force which had conducted research on the issues for 10 years prior.

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