Lead - how does lead affect my ability to donate?

Find out about lead levels and whether you can donate blood or plasma if your job exposes you to it.

Lead levels and blood donation

What are the health effects of lead and who is at risk?

Lead is a heavy metal which is toxic to our nervous systems. If someone has more than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of their blood (μg/dL) it can cause digestive, cardiovascular, kidney, reproductive and nervous system problems. The risks are highest for unborn babies, infants and children.

Fortunately, the levels of lead in the Australian population have fallen over the decades and we take certain measures to ensure we’re doing everything we can to protect vulnerable patients from lead exposure.

What is a normal lead level?

Lead levels in the general population are estimated to be less than 5ug/dL. 

Am I at risk of having high lead levels and, if so, do I need to be tested?

If you work in an industry or job with lead exposure, you should be regularly tested by your work and told your blood’s lead levels. 

If you haven’t had any lead exposure or aren’t at risk of it you don’t need to have your lead levels tested to be able give blood.

Can I donate blood or plasma if my job exposes me to lead?

If your lead level is 10 μg/dL or higher, you can’t donate blood — but the good news is that you can donate plasma

Plasma is a powerful and versatile part of your blood, which is full of special proteins that can be used in 18 different life-giving ways, from treating serious burns and cancer, to protecting people with brain disorders or immune conditions. 

Why can donors with lead levels higher than 10 μg/dL only give plasma?

Lead could be harmful, particularly to unborn babies, infants and children. There is no known safe dose of lead. Higher lead levels in a donation increase the risk of lead-related harm to patients. 

It’s different with plasma because plasma donations can be pooled in large volumes containing plasma from many donors, so any lead is diluted to a very small amount.

Can a blood donation contain a large amount of lead and is this dangerous?

No, blood donations don’t contain large amounts of lead. This is for several reasons:

  • Most donors don’t have high lead levels. 
  • Donors with known high lead levels aren’t allowed to give blood or plasma used for ‘fresh’ plasma products, where a donation is transfused directly to a patient. Any plasma they give is only used for ‘pooled’ plasma treatments, which are created by combining donations from many donors. This dilutes any lead to a very small amount. 
  • Most of the body’s lead is stored in bones, with only about 2-5 per cent of total lead being in blood. That means the total amount of lead in blood — and in any blood donation — is low. 
  • Around 99% of the lead in blood is bound to the red blood cells. Donors with higher lead levels can only give plasma, which doesn’t contain red cells, so only a tiny portion of the lead in their blood actually goes into their donation.

How does Lifeblood identify donors who have high lead levels?

People who are at increased risk of lead exposure through their job have regular monitoring through their workplace. To find these donors, we ask everyone before they donate whether they’ve had any tests or investigations. 

I’ve heard that I can reduce my lead levels by donating blood. Is that true?

No, we wouldn’t expect donating to significantly decrease your lead levels. Only a small fraction of your body’s total lead is stored in your red blood cells and a blood donation is only about 10 per cent of your total blood volume. 

In fact, kidneys can clear out lead from blood quite well, but the process is slower for lead stored in bones. Because most of the lead in your body is actually in your bones, you only lose a small fraction of your overall lead when you donate blood.

Where can I get more information?

Please give us a call on 13 14 95.

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