Australia's Northern Territory (NT) government said on Thursday that local children have the highest blood lead levels of any children in the developed world, in what has been dubbed a "public health emergency" for some rural towns.
The NT's Center for Disease Control conducted a number of tests among disadvantaged children thought to have been sniffing fuel, and of the 178 tested, 154 returned positive results for elevated levels of lead in the blood.
The Center's acting director, Charles Douglas said the levels were not only higher than expected, but they were the highest among the developed world, with the highest level found to be 17 times the acceptable rate, while the average test returned blood lead levels six times the average.
Douglas said the "public health emergency" was due to a recent change in the formula of aviation fuel. Previously, the fuel, known as "avgas," was deemed unsniffable, but when the formula changed making it sniffable, it slipped "under the radar" of local authorities.
"The formulation has changed, and it's now classified as a sniffable substance. It kind of snuck under the radar," Douglas told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
"It's a serious issue because the levels are high and, particularly in children, the effects are long-term and some of them are irreversible."
Douglas said the effects of sniffing avgas were similar to that of a "nasty poison," and could lead to serious liver and kidney damage, behavioral disorders and, in some cases, death.
In remote parts of the Northern Territory, fuel sniffing has reached crisis point levels in April, CCTV footage showed addicted youths breaking into airfields, siphoning avgas out of the wings of light planes to sniff.
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