Lead Exposure in your life? Here's our Q & A with Public Health Wales
Many people think that lead is a problem of the past, but there is a possibility you could still be exposed to lead in your home or surrounding environment. We spoke with Dr Sarah Jones, a Consultant in Environmental Public Health at Public Health Wales.
The most common source of exposure to lead is through drinking tap water that has travelled through lead pipes.
Dr Jones, who has over 50 research publications, spoke to us about her research into lead exposure.
Q: For people that don't know, where are you likely to be exposed to lead?
A: If you live in an older house, built before 1970, the drinking water pipes may contain lead. Older houses with lots of layers of old paint may have lead in some of the older layers. These can be exposed during house renovations. This means that anyone can be exposed to lead and that we need people of all ages and from all over Wales to participate in this research.
Q: Why is it important to research lead exposure in Wales?
A: We are still learning about how lead can harm health; we now know that there is no safe level of exposure to lead. Historically, Wales had a number of lead mines and in the 1970s and 1980s, a considerable amount of research that helped to improve understanding of lead related harms, was carried out here. Since then there hasn't been any major studies into lead exposure. We think it's important to understand whether people in Wales are still being exposed to lead and compare the current situation with the 1970s and 1980s.
Q: What do you hope to achieve from this research?
A: This research is part of a wider programme of work that aims to improve our understanding of the effects that lead has on the health of people in Wales. The data here will help us to decide if, and what we need to do to reduce the burden of lead on health. We will be improving knowledge and understanding amongst the people of Wales on how they could be exposed to lead and then, if necessary, we will develop and introduce interventions to reduce exposure to lead.
Q: Why have you chosen HealthWise Wales to help achieve this research project?
A: HealthWise Wales offers the ideal platform to achieve this because it allows us to collect data from large numbers of people across Wales easily. Because the data is also linked to the rest of the HealthWise Wales dataset it allows us to consider the information about lead in the context of the rest of the dataset.
Q: Who are the kind of participants you are looking to complete this research?
A: Unlike places such as the USA or France, in the UK we don't routinely collect surveillance data about blood lead exposures. We also haven't carried out any significant research in to lead exposures in Wales since the 1970s and 80s. This all means that we are keen for as many people as possible, of all ages and from all over Wales, to complete the research.
Q: What are your long term goals with this research?
A: Our long term aim is to reduce the burden of lead related harms to health. This can be achieved by identifying high risk areas and circumstances through this research and taking steps to prevent lead exposure in those areas.
Q: What interesting facts have you found out so far?
A: We only launched the module in the summer, but at the last check almost 2,500 people had completed it! We are delighted with the response so far, but the more people who complete the survey, the better quality our information and analysis will be.
If you are concerned about lead exposure in your pipes you can contact Welsh Water who have a free service to replace any lead pipes between the water main and property boundary.
You can find out more about lead in drinking water here: https://www.dwrcymru.com/en/My-Water/Drinking-Water-Quality/Lead-in-drinking-water.aspx
As we know, there are no safe levels of lead exposure and symptoms only become apparent after high levels of exposure. But, even at low levels of exposure, lead can cause irreversible harm. That's why it's important to spend a few minutes completing our lead exposure module to aid this research and help the prevention of lead exposure. https://www.healthwisewales.gov.wales/register/