Changes in the lead isotopic composition of blood, diet and air in Australia over a decade: Globalization and implications for future isotopic studies

Brian Gulson*, Karen Mizon, Michael Korsch, Alan Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Source apportionment in biological or environmental samples using the lead isotope method, where there are diverse sources of lead, relies on a significant difference between the isotopic composition in the target media and the sources. Because of the unique isotopic composition of Australian lead, source apportionment has been relatively successful in the past. Over the period of a decade, the 206Pb/204Pb ratio for Australian (mainly female) adults has shown an increase from a geometric mean of 16.8-17.3. Associated with this increase, there has been a decrease in mean blood lead concentration from 4.7 to 2.3 μg/dL, or about 5% per year, similar to that observed in other countries. Lead in air, which up until 2000 was derived largely from the continued use of leaded gasoline, showed an overall increase in the 206Pb/204Pb ratio during 1993-2000 from 16.5 to 17.2. Since 1998 the levels of lead in air were less than 0.2 μg/m3 and would contribute negligibly to blood lead. Over the 10-year period, the 206Pb/204Pb ratio in diet, based mainly on quarterly 6-day duplicate diets, increased from 16.9 to 18.3. The lead concentration in diet showed a small decrease from 8.7 to 6.4 μg Pb/kg although the daily intake increased markedly from 7.4 to 13.9 μg Pb/day during the latter part of the decade probably reflecting differences in demographics. The changes in blood lead from sources such as lead in bone or soil or dust is not dominant because of the low 206Pb/204Pb ratios in these media. Unless there are other sources not identified and analysed for these adults, it would appear that in spite of our earlier conclusions to the contrary, diet does make an overall contribution to blood lead, and this is certainly the case for specific individuals. Certain population groups from south Asia, south-east Asia, the Middle East and Europe (e.g. UK) are unsuitable for some studies as their isotopic ratios in blood are converging towards the increasing Australian values. The increases in blood 206Pb/204Pb ratio combined with globalization, which has resulted in the increases in 206Pb/ 204Pb ratio for diet, means that isotopic studies undertaken with a high degree of certainty of outcomes over a decade ago, are now considerably more difficult, not only in Australia but also in other countries where the isotopic differences are even less than in Australia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)130-138
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2006


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