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Concerns about lead exposure in children in Manitoba

 

Lead exposure is an important cause of learning difficulties in children, in the poor mental health of children, and a contributor to high crime rates.  I commented on this issue on October 7 and asked the Minister of Health what she was doing to address lead exposure of children in Manitoba during Estimates on October 12. 

On Wednesday October 7, I commented during a response to a Ministerial statement on mental health that it is important to recognize that lead exposure of children contributes to their poor mental health.  My comments are below (from Hansard).

"we need to recog­nize that lead exposure of children and adults is a sig­ni­fi­cant cause of poor mental health. There are now numer­ous studies which show that those who are exposed to lead, parti­cularly but not exclusively in child­hood, have higher rates of mental illness, including but not limited to anxiety and depression.

      The gov­ern­ment should take this more seriously than it has and begin testing children between the ages of one and three in lead-affected areas of Winnipeg, where the incidence of high lead levels is predicted to be high from a study from Intrinsik, which the gov­ern­ment unveiled in 2020."

 

 On October 12, I asked the Minister of Health what she is doing about the report from Intrinsik which provided evidence (from modelling studies) of high blood lead levels in children in the Point Douglas area.

Mr. Gerrard: My second question has to do with, in January of 2020, a report was released on the extent of lead con­tami­nation in various parts of Winnipeg. This was a report produced by Intrinsic. It was released by the Minister of Health, I believe, and maybe also the minister respon­si­ble for Conservation.

      Now, the report projected that up to half the children in Point Douglas would have very high levels of lead and lead levels that would be toxic. Now I have called previously on the gov­ern­ment to test lead levels of children between the ages of one and three, as done in many other juris­dic­tions and has been done in parts of the United States for decades.

      The minister, I suspect, is quite engaged in this concern about lead toxicity and pre­ven­tion, in part because the minister should be aware of these problems, as they've been known for many years.

Ms. Gordon: I think we were cut off, because I didn't hear a question.

Mr. Chairperson: Could the member for River Heights please repeat the question for the minister?

Mr. Gerrard: I would ask what the minister is doing in terms of preventive health to decrease the problems of lead toxicity in Manitoba, but parti­cularly in Point Douglas area. Note that the Minister talks about the low risk from lead in soil, but does not talk about the overall risk including from lead water pipes and lead paint in homes.  Indeed, the Minister in referring to a low risk from soil is quoting the government press release, not the report itself which provides evidence that blood lead levels in children are high in many children in the Point Douglas area.

Ms. Gordon: I'm pleased to respond to the question posed by the hon­our­able member for River Heights (Mr. Gerrard).

      An in­de­pen­dent review on lead in soil in Winnipeg neighbourhoods reconfirms that there is a low health risk for Manitobans when it comes to lead in soil. Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living, now Manitoba Health and Seniors Care, and Manitoba Con­ser­va­tion and Climate commissioned a third-party review to deter­mine if there are any potential risks to human health and how best to identify and manage areas with elevated lead concentrations in soil.

      The report was presented to gov­ern­ment in December 2019 and the Province has moved quickly to review its findings and prioritize the recom­men­dations. As recom­mended, the Province will work towards making blood lead levels in excess of esta­blished guide­lines reportable under The Public Health Act. This move will assist the Province to track and better understand where lead exposure may continue to pose a problem. This new infor­ma­tion will help focus future public health and environ­mental efforts where they are needed and will have the greatest impact.

      The min­is­try of Health and Seniors Care and Manitoba Con­ser­va­tion and Climate will also move forward with a recom­men­dation to develop a com­muni­cations and outreach plan that delivers a single clear and effective message to the public and key stake­holders about how to mitigate potential risk. This could include a public web page or social media plat­form with regular updates for infor­ma­tion sharing and training for parents and caregivers of young children, as well as child-care centres, com­mu­nity centres and preschools.

      The min­is­tries of Health and Seniors Care and Manitoba Con­ser­va­tion and Climate will continue to work with Manitoba Edu­ca­tion and school divisions to develop a plan to address recom­men­dations for schools in the Weston area. Given the primary sources of lead emissions in Winnipeg are no longer present, the health risk of lead for Manitobans is low. And I also want to state the report stressed that soil remediation was not recom­mended as a course of action.

[Note that the Minister talks about the low risk from lead in soil, but does not talk about the overall risk including from lead water pipes and lead paint in homes.  Indeed, the Minister in referring to a low risk from soil is quoting the government press release, not the report itself which provides evidence that blood lead levels in children are high in many children in the Point Douglas area.]

 

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