Xstrata denies environment and health impacts

Another Xstrata story from Mount Isa (courtesy of the Australian), it sounds very similar to stories last week about flesh-eating bacteria in the McArthur River region.

From The Australian Testing of kids adds weight to lead fears
MEDICAL tests conducted on children in the Queensland mining city of Mt Isa have failed to allay concerns of increased levels of lead in the blood, a condition often associated with learning and behavioural difficulties.
Amid a debate over the lack of continuing health and environment monitoring in the northwest Queensland city, The Australian revealed last year that the state Health Department had found 10per cent of children had blood-lead levels above those recommended by the World Health Organisation.  Queensland Health began testing children aged between one and four in September and by mid-December had 95 results: nine showed blood-lead levels greater than 10 micrograms per decilitre, with three of those being higher than 15 micrograms.

The WHO recommends children have a blood-lead level no greater than 10 micrograms, while Queensland Health’s notifiable level is 15 micrograms. Queensland Health has continued testing children and last week had 166 results – 17 showing blood-lead levels greater than 10 micrograms per decilitre, with four of those higher than 15 micrograms.

The new results continue to demonstrate how one in 10 Mt Isa children has a blood-lead level higher than that recommended by the WHO. High lead levels in young children can alter brain function, delay neurodevelopment, decrease IQ levels and slow cognitive function, and lead to behaviour problems.

The testing began in September after a report in The Australian raised concerns about the possibility of lead poisoning. A Queensland Health spokeswoman said the department wanted 400 children to take part in the study to help build a reliable sample size. She said a night clinic would be open each Wednesday this month at the Mt Isa Base Hospital to make it easier for parents to participate.

Mt Isa’s huge copper and lead smelters, which sit in the middle of the city’s skyline, are owned by mining company Xstrata and released 290 tonnes of lead into the air in 2004-05.

Political considerations had been blamed for preventing the introduction of air-quality monitoring and mandatory health checks at Mt Isa’s two smelters.

An investigation by The Australian has found that a soil sample taken from a driveway between the local council swimming pool and skate park has a lead content of 610 milligrams per kilogram, which is in breach of federal government health guidelines.

The National Environmental Protection Council health investigation level is 300mg/kg for standard residential sites, daycare centres and schools, and 600mg/kg for parks and recreational areas.

The Australian has previously revealed research carried out by Macquarie University environmental scientist Mark Taylor, which shows that the lead content in Mt Isa’s soil and waterways “grossly exceeded” federal guidelines.

The Queensland Environmental Protection Agency has not tested the city’s soil for the past 16 years, despite the huge clean-up that had to be launched following tests carried out on soil and water in 1990.

But despite the seemingly high blood-lead levels, local residents and elected representatives have so far appeared unphased by the problem, and Xstrata has sought to downplay the issue.

Sean Parnell, March 06, 2007


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