Environmental hazards are hazards from the built and natural environment that can affect human health. This can include air pollution, chemicals, contaminated sites, noise, radiation, lead or asbestos. Regulation of these issues is shared between state and local government agencies. Environmental health officers can provide advice to agencies and the public regarding health risks. For more information, please see NSW Health Environmental Health Branch.
Environmental health officers can review and provide comment on environmental and health impact assessments and statements, local environmental plans, development control plans and planning guidelines with respect to potential public health risks associated with a proposal.
Reducing exposure to lead is an important health issue in Australia because lead can be found throughout our environment. It is a naturally occurring metal which is widely used in manufacturing. Lead can be harmful to the human body and those at the greatest risk are infants, children, and pregnant women.
Under the Public Health Act 2010 all laboratories are required to notify cases where elevated blood lead levels are greater than or equal to 5 µg/dL (0.24 µmol/L) to the local public health unit.
It is well established that blood lead levels equal to or greater than 10 µg/dL (0.48 µmol/L) may have harmful effects on many organs and bodily functions. Effects such as increased blood pressure, abnormally low haemoglobin, abnormal kidney function, long-term kidney damage behavioural problems, cognitive impairment and abnormal brain function have been observed at blood lead levels between 10µg/dL and 60 µg/dl (0.48-2.89 µmol/L) in adults and children.
Environmental health officers interview patients or the patient’s parents to identify a possible source of lead exposure. On some occasions an onsite exposure assessment can be undertaken at the patient’s home or school or referred to Safe Work if it is likely an occupational exposure. Possible sources include the following:
lead paint on houses built before 1970 (including the patient’s and neighbouring houses) and, in particular, (i) any renovation or demolition of these houses and (ii) whether a young child is known to engage in eating soil and paint ('pica').
involvement in high-risk occupations, including lead mining and smelting, metal repair or foundry work, painting, and decorating, automotive (including radiator) repairs or breaking down old car batteries
high-risk hobbies involving lead or lead paint, including casting metal sinkers, antique furniture restoration, lead soldering, lead lighting and indoor shooting
areas associated with large and small lead industries or areas with historic high traffic flow
household pets which may provide an exposure pathway for lead dust
use of traditional medicines such as Ayurvedic or Burmese remedies.
painted toys, cots, windowsills, paint chips, etc. particularly for infants who may chew or suck on such items
Where soil lead contamination exists, people can be exposed via sandpits, vegetable gardens or domestic poultry.
T Cains, S Cannata, K Ressler, V Sheppeard, M Ferson M5 East Tunnels Air Quality Monitoring Project, published 2003
M Ferson, S Flanigan, T Cains Lead poisoning outbreak from consumption of contaminated Ayurvedic medication, Medical Journal of Australia, 15 February 2022,