Optus Stadium lead debate: Expert backs water test methods
THE world’s top expert on lead poisoning, credited with removing lead from petrol and paint, yesterday described the WA Government’s position on lead testing at Optus Stadium as “nonsense”.
New York-based Professor Philip Landrigan has joined other experts in backing the sampling technique used by The Sunday Times, which found elevated levels of lead — up to 14 times higher than the guideline maximum — in water from six drinking fountains outside the stadium.
The WA Government claims the newspaper, which used two accredited laboratories, should have flushed the taps for two to three minutes before taking samples.
“The Government’s argument that you should have flushed the taps for two-three minutes before taking samples is nonsense,” Professor Landrigan, a global expert on environmental health and paediatrics, said.
“You have every right to expect that new construction should be lead-free,” he added.
“The technology exists to produce lead-free plumbing.”
Professor Landrigan, who has published more than 500 scientific papers and five books, is renowned globally for his decades of work in protecting children against environmental threats to health. He has chaired committees at the US National Academy of Sciences on Environmental Neurotoxicology and on Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children.
The University of WA’s program chair for environmental engineering, Professor Anas Ghadouani, is among experts who claim our method, was correct. It complied fully with the Australian Standard.
Subsequent testing by Venues West on four fountains involved flushing. All the results came back within guideline limits.
WA Health Minister Roger Cook declined to answer questions on the issue this week.
“I have been advised by the (Health) Department that no further testing is necessary and that the water is safe to drink,” he said.
There is increasing evidence that lead concentrations below the Australian guideline levels are harmful.
“Lead in drinking water is very clearly a hazard to human health,” Professor Landrigan said. “The World Health Organisation and more recently the US Centres for Disease Control have stated that no level of lead in blood is safe for a child and that therefore the appropriate blood lead level for children is zero. This conclusion is based on very high-quality studies showing that lead is toxic to infant brain development at even the lowest levels that can be measured.
“Lead exposure in early life (including foetal during pregnancy via maternal exposure) results in loss of IQ, shortening of attention span and disruption of behaviour — effects that can last lifelong.
“More recently, data are emerging showing that low doses of lead are toxic also to adult health and increase risk of heart disease, stroke and chronic kidney disease. A major study is coming out this week in Lancet Public Health that presents these data.”
The study Low-level Lead Exposure and Mortality in USAdults by Professor Bruce Lanphear and colleagues estimates about 400,000 US deaths a year are linked to lead.
Professor Landrigan, who was invited by Lancet Public Health to comment, wrote: “An especially striking and unexpected finding in these studies is that the association between lead and disease is proportionately greater at lower levels of exposure.
“Lanphear and colleagues’ calculation that lead accounts for more than 400,000 deaths annually in the USA represents a tenfold increase over the number of deaths currently ascribed to lead. The authors argue that previous estimates have produced lower numbers because those analyses assumed that lead has no effect on mortality at amounts of lead in blood below 5microgram/dL and, thus, did not consider the effects of lower exposures. These findings have substantial implications for global assessments of cardiovascular disease mortality.”
Tests confirm lead in fountains outside Optus Stadium
A FORENSIC chemist has confirmed lead is leaching inside the new drinking fountains outside Optus Stadium.
First-draw samples from six of eight drinking fountains contained lead levels exceeding Australian Drinking Water Guidelines’ maximum acceptable concentration of 0.01mg/L.
Lead levels in the fountains return to acceptable levels after taps are flushed for a minute. If left for a period levels rise again.
Dr John Watling, chief scientist of TSW Analytical, who devised the sampling program and collected the samples for laboratory analysis, recorded a lead concentration of 0.098 mg/L at one fountain — almost 10 times the guideline maximum.
“The water in the fountains at Optus Stadium Park does contain elevated lead when fountains are not flushed adequately,” Dr Watling reported.
“Flushing the water quickly reduces the lead levels to below those required for drinking water, a process taking at maximum about one minute.
“It should be remembered that a passing user of the fountain is unlikely to flush the fountain for this period before drinking.”
Two of the eight fountains are at children’s playgrounds. Lead is particularly harmful to young children and can cause irreversible damage in developing brains, among other health impacts.
The forensic scientist sampled each fountain at intervals. The first was after five seconds flushing; the second after a further 30 seconds flushing; a third after a further 30 seconds flushing; another a minute later and a fifth sample one minute after that. And a final sample was taken 24 hours later.
The findings confirm results from two sampling exercises by The Sunday Times in February, in which the newspaper used two different accredited laboratories.
The WA Government dismissed the results then, with stadium owner VenuesWest claiming the testing “was in absence of the strict standards and quality controls that apply under the Australian Standard for water quality sampling”.
National and international experts on lead poisoning have subsequently described the Government’s position as “nonsense” and have backed the newspaper’s sampling method as the correct one.
Dr Watling said the results indicated “the source of lead is probably within the fountain itself or at a point including and beyond where the fountain joins the mains”.
“The rationale for this is that the next day, the raised lead levels are present and also quickly depurate (purify) on flushing while if the source of the lead was more distal to the fountains, the depuration would be much slower.”
Lead concentrations were highest in the three fountains closest to the stadium’s train station. These are the fountains likely to receive less “human traffic” during the week, he noted.
Dr Watling said no one was going to suffer lead poisoning from the fountains. “However, it must be remembered that lead is being leached into the system and accumulating to levels that are inappropriate for drinking water,” he said.
There was also leaching of zinc and copper.
“It must be remembered that no (independent) sampling has been undertaken inside the stadium,” he added.
Dr Watling recommended “a more detailed survey of the state of the water in the fountains associated with Optus Stadium be undertaken in the near future”.
In March, the Health Department said: “Any results which have been professionally tested, and are above the ADWG guidelines, are of concern to the department.”
On Friday, the department said itwould liaise with Venue West “to determine if any further action is required”.
“There are strong national processes in place to guide the safety of drinking water in WA,” it added. “These processes do not change based on the views of one expert or single pieces of data.
“While the department values views from a range of experts on water quality issues, these must be considered with the patterns of data and trends over time. Health risks associated with lead in drinking water is based on a ‘lifetime risk’ of drinking a concentration of water for the whole of one’s life.”
VenuesWest declined to answer questions after being sent Dr Watling’s report on Friday. It referred to the Health Department response.
New York-based Professor Philip Landrigan, the world’s top expert on lead poisoning, credited with removing lead from petrol and paint, said lead-free plumbing was very feasible.
“You have every right to expect that new construction should be lead-free,” he saidlast month.
The inaugural western derby at Optus Stadium will record its first sell-out today.