Despite worrisome lead levels in tap water and soil in parts of Winnipeg, provincial health officials aren't calling for widespread blood testing of at-risk people in areas exposed to lead contamination.
"We don't recommend screening for blood-lead levels," chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said Wednesday as the province released an independent review of lead testing in soil in Winnipeg neighbourhoods. The report by Intrinsik Corp. identified 10 older neighbourhoods where lead concentrations were above soil-quality guidelines.
The report recommended the province measure the lead exposure of people in high-risk neighbourhoods, especially children under age seven. It recommended biomonitoring, in which environmental chemicals in the body are measured, and the testing samples of air, water, dust, soil, and household paint.
Epidemiological studies link lead exposure to developmental problems with neuromotor function, academic achievement and reading or math skills, delinquent or antisocial behaviour, attention and executive function, auditory and visual function, the 2013 Health Canada Final Human Health State of the Science Report on Lead said.
Late last year, the City of Winnipeg reported approximately 23,000 homes, which were built before the mid-1950s, had lead water pipes. The city tested water samples from 268 homes with lead pipes over two months and found that 20 per cent had lead levels above the guideline of no more than 0.005 mg/L.
The Intrinsik report on lead testing in Winnipeg soils said the province should set up a reporting system to make sure any child tested for lead levels is tracked and receives the necessary followup. The province said it's working toward making blood-lead levels in excess of established guidelines reportable under the Public Health Act.
The province doesn't test blood-lead levels of at-risk kids unless it is "clinically indicated," a provincial government spokeswoman said Thursday. Blood tests for lead are only done if a doctor has "concerns related to specific exposures and/or clinical signs or symptoms," she said in an email. Two of the symptoms of lead poisoning are gastrointestinal complaints and anemia.
The province can't easily order widespread blood testing.
"Biomonitoring has widespread practical and ethical implications for Manitobans, communities and for the health care system," the government spokeswoman said.
"Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living will further review the report and examine these recommendations and their implications before taking any action," she said.
10 neighbourhoods with lead levels above soil-quality guidelines
North Point Douglas
— source: Intrinsik Corp.
The Manitoba government says lead isn't a big health threat here.
"Given the primary source of lead emissions in Winnipeg are no longer present, the health risk of lead in soil for Manitobans is low," the spokeswoman said.
The private lab that does blood testing in the province said if someone has concerns about lead, they can go to their doctor, who would ask qualifying questions before issuing a test requisition. Dynacare would collect the specimen at one of its clinics, and send it for analysis with Shared Health Manitoba, which would cover the cost, said company spokesman Mark Bernhardt.
"We do not have a private, paid-test option for lead available ourselves," Bernhardt said.
If a doctor won't order tests for blood lead levels, private labs in the U.S. will do it for a price.
AnyLabTestNow! in Fargo offers a blood test for lead that costs US$129. Results would be available in about a week, said owner Dan Parker. He said he sees a few Canadian customers but most often they're looking for a blood test that measures five heavy metals, including lead, for US$250.
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