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Blood lead levels in Trail kids continue to drop

Average blood lead levels in kids aged six to 36 months in Trail and Rivervale stood at 2.1 micrograms per decilitre this year, an all-time low.

The Trail Area Health and Environment Program is also reporting increased participation in testing over the past two years following a drop during the pandemic. This year 106 children were tested.

Average levels for the past few years are as follows: 2.3 in 2022, 2.5 in 2021, 2.3 in 2020, 2.6 in 2019 and 2.9 in 2018.

“It is good to see the continual decrease in blood lead values for Trail area children,” Dr. Karin Goodison, a medical health officer with Interior Health, said in a news release.

“Although lead exposure remains higher for children in Trail compared to similar aged children in other parts of Canada and the US, the gap is narrowing.”

Goodison said children living in places not close to a smelter would not have levels of zero because of naturally occurring lead as well as lead left over primarily from leaded gasoline. The general population usually has levels of 0.5 to 0.6.

She added in the 1990s, the average blood level in Trail children was close to 15. But 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 anything under 10 was thought to be acceptable. However, further data indicates levels as low as one or two may still have negative health impacts.

Although the average this year was 2.1 micrograms, Goodison said there is “quite a bit of variability” and in most years, including this one, some children test as high as 10, although there have been fewer and fewer of them.

For the past 30 years, children in the area have been tested due to emissions from the Teck smelter and the program has worked to reduce lead exposure by encouraging things like hand-washing before eating, ensuring an iron-rich diet and keeping floors dust-free.

Levels of lead in the air meet US Environmental Protection Agency standards, which are used in the absence of Canadian air quality objectives. The year-to-date average is 0.08 micrograms per cubic metre.

Mayor Colleen Jones, who chairs the health and environment committee, thanked families for continuing to participate in blood testing.

“I am excited to once again see that average blood lead levels in children continue to decline,” she said.

Teck environment manager Dan Bouillon said controls that are part of the company’s fugitive dust reduction program “continue to have a positive influence in the community” and they are looking for opportunities to make further improvements.

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