Does lead affect my ability to donate?

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 general Australian population have fallen over the decades (they’re estimated to be less than 5 ug/dL) and we take certain measures to ensure we’re doing everything we can to protect vulnerable patients from lead exposure. 

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.  

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.  

That’s because 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. 

How do you identify donors who have high lead levels?  

To find these donors, we ask everyone before they donate whether they’ve had any tests or investigations, which they will if they work in an at-risk industry. 

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% 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. 

Please contact us for more information.  

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