Nova Scotia’s Medical Officer Refutes May’s Column

Letter by Dr. Maureen Baikie - NS Assoc. Prov. Medical Officer of Health
The Hill Times
Monday, April 12, 2004

As lead author of the study described in Elizabeth May’s article ("Tar Ponds and mud-slinging," The Hill Times, March 15), I want to respond to her statement that 15 Sydney residents,"mostly toddlers under six, had elevated levels of lead or arsenic."

This study was designed by a team of professionals that included public health nurses, specialist doctors, medical officers of health, a toxicologist, and an epidemiologist. We tested Sydney’s most vulnerable receptors, young children and pregnant women. The lead results were unequivocal. Not a single child or pregnant woman had blood lead levels above the internationally accepted standard of 10 ug/dL.

The arsenic results were more complicated, and harder to summarize. We used a two-stage procedure. An initial, first void urine sample, which tends to concentrate arsenic, identified individuals for follow-up testing with 24-hour urine samples.

Of 179 children under five tested, seven required the more definitive follow-up test. Only two children (and no adults) receiving the more definitive test had urinary arsenic above 20 ug/L. This level is not associated with health effects, but was set as part of a cautious approach to trigger further assessment.

A specialist physician gave these children detailed medical assessments and found no arsenic related health effects. These reassuring results are broadly comparable to similar testing in other Canadian, U.S., and European communities. They do not support claims that environmental sources of lead or arsenic are putting Sydney children at risk.

Your readers can view the entire study by going to the Nova Scotia Department of Health web site and clicking on "reports."

Dr. Maureen Baikie
Associate Provincial Medical Officer of Health
Nova Scotia Department of Health
Halifax, N.S.