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Lead Levels (Dundee)

Volume 35: debated on Thursday 27 January 1983

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will publish in the Official Report the text of the letter from the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) to the hon. Member for Dundee, West, dated 20 December, relating to a survey of lead levels in the atmosphere in the west end of Dundee.

I have arranged to do so. My letter contained the reassuring news that exposure to lead in the hon. Member's constituency appears to be already among the lowest in the United Kingdom.Following is the letter:

"Thank you for your letter of 30 November to George Younger about possible danger to children from lead in petrol fumes in the West End of Dundee.
I can understand your concern but you may be reassured to know that a recent comprehensive study of blood-leads in a large number of mothers and infants in Dundee found very low blood-lead levels indeed, in fact possibly the lowest ever recorded in any study in the United Kingdom. One of the principal factors accounting for this is probably the fact that, on the evidence of lead in air measurements which have been taken during peak hours of road traffic, there would appear to be no problem of air lead pollution in the Dundee area. (Another important factor is that lead in water, which is a fairly common problem in other areas of Scotland is not a problem in Dundee; and, thirdly, industrial sources of lead pollution are minimal in the Dundee district).
You will appreciate therefore that further monitoring of air lead in Dundee is unlikely to be a productive exercise and that any increase in the amount of lead in the atmosphere in the area of Hawkhill Primary School, following new road development, should not be such as to cause any concern.
As regards the wider question of whether the United Kingdom should be moving towards lead-free petrol, the Government have, as you know, carefully considered all the available options. Our conclusion is that the best course is to reduce the maximum permitted lead content of petrol so far as is possible without ruling out the continued us of car engines of present design—that is, from the present limit of 0·40 grams per litre to 0·15 grams per litre. This will reduce lead emissions from cars by about two-thirds some 10 years earlier than any other practicable method.
Finally, on your last point, I should say there is really no conclusive evidence at the present time as to whether there is a "threshold" or "no-effect" level of lead in the blood. Research studies on this subject are continuing in several countries, including the United Kingdom. In the meantime, the Government considers it prudent to reduce so far as possible people's exposure to lead from all sources. This is the purpose of our various policies and measures as announced by Tom King in May 1981. I am indeed glad to note that, on the evidence of the blood-leads recently recorded in Dundee, exposure to lead in your consituency appears to be already among the lowest in the United Kingdom."