Children living on the country’s outlying islands and in rural areas have higher levels of lead in their blood than those living in urban areas, according to a recent report by a National Taiwan University professor.
The report — sponsored by the Bureau of Health Promotion and penned by Hwang Yaw-huei (黃耀輝), a professor at the university’s College of Public Health — showed the average levels of lead in the blood of children living in Kinmen County was 2.80 micrograms/deciliter (mcg/dl). Children in Changhua, Lianchiang and Taitung counties followed with 2.53mcg/dl, 2.51mcg/dl and 2.48mcg/dl, respectively.
These figures were higher than the average level of 1.86mcg/dl found among the 934 children — aged between four and seven — who took part in the study conducted last year.
The report also found that social and economic disparities, such as the occupations of the children’s parents, contributed to a higher exposure to lead.
Two of the children in the study were found to have blood lead levels exceeding 10mcg/dl — the threshold at which lead levels in the bloodstream become toxic, according to WHO guidelines.
The two children both took Chinese herbal medicine and came from low-income families that burned incense at home and also had a father working in the construction sector, the report said.
Banning lead in products such as gasoline and paint has led to a general decline of lead levels, it added.
The report cited studies conducted in the 1990s that showed lead levels of 4.39 to 4.72mcg/dl in children living in Taipei and 5.5mcg/dl plus or minus 1.9mcg/dl for children who lived in Kaohsiung.
The trend in Taiwan is similar to that in more developed countries, such as the US and Germany. Noting the US’ recent decision to lower its threshold from 10 to 5mcg/dl after studies indicating that lead at levels lower than the WHO standard could still affect children’s development, Hwang suggested the government gradually lower the threshold for pre-school children to 4mcg/dl.
Hwang also suggested targeting the prevention of lead poison among people with higher risk profiles.