Action on lead pollution in Esperance

THE WA Government has responsed to the Parliamentary Inquiry of the Education and Health Standing Committee in relation to the Cause and Extent of Lead Pollution in the Esperance Area.

THE WA Government has responsed to the Parliamentary Inquiry of the Education and Health Standing Committee in relation to the Cause and Extent of Lead Pollution in the Esperance Area.

Environment Minister David Templeman outlined a significant strengthening of the Department of Conservation and Environment’s monitoring and compliance capabilities.

Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the Government accepted and supported the overwhelmingly majority of recommendations made in the report.

“We acknowledged that the failings of a number of Government agencies had created the most regrettable situation and we acted quickly and effectively to remediate the health of the Esperance community and their environment, but there is still more to be done,” she said.

“Testing shows that six children, or 7.5 per cent of those who initially showed elevated blood lead levels, do not meet acceptable international levels of 5ug/dL or below, and we are working with the individual families to identify the source of lead in their blood and whether or not it orginates from the Magellan mine.

“Overall, 92.5 per cent of these children have recorded significant reductions in their blood lead levels.

“Despite a major cleaning operation, there are still problems with lead and nickel levels in some rainwater tanks, so we are conducting intensive research to identify the cause of this.

“We have also tightened up on the handling and movement of nickel to reduce dust emissions.

“We will not abandon our commitment to Esperance community with regard to cleaning up contamination and ensuring it cannot be repeated.”

Templeman announced that additional annual funding of $1.3million had been allocated to the Department for Environment and Conservation for compliance monitoring.

“This funding will enable the employment of an additional 10 full-time staff members to audit and monitor the 500 environmental approvals throughout the State,” he said.

“The size of the compliance unit will more than double and four of the positions will be regionally based.

“This unit has never had a more crucial role than it does during WA’s extraordinary resources-led economic boom.

“We must ensure that we have the resources available to scrutinise major developments and that they are forced to stand up to that scrutiny.”

Templeman said the new positions were in addition to 25 new environmental officer positions, including 12 in the regions, funded by a significant fee increase for the State’s 860 licensed operations, including mines and ports.

The Minister said that despite a worldwide recruitment campaign, the department had so far been unable to attract a suitably qualified person to fill a new position in Esperance.

However, the duties were being undertaken by staff from Perth in the interim. Ms MacTiernan said that in response to the lead contamination, the Government had:

  • ended lead exports through Esperance Port;
  • taken more than 2,890 blood lead samples – including three rounds of follow-up testing on 83 children who showed elevated lead levels;
  • arranged home visits from medical practitioners and a toxicologist follow-up on test results;
  • cleaned the homes of children who had elevated blood lead levels and local BBQ and playground areas;
  • tested 1,539 rainwater tanks, cleaning 423 of these and provided 271 water filters;
  • brought experts in lead and nickel contamination to Esperance to advise Government agencies, community members and parents of children at risk;
  • appointed an Esperance response co-ordinator to help organise and support the local response;
  • provided the Shire of Esperance with a $500,000 grant to promote the town and help its image and tourism industry recover from the impact of the contamination;
  • upgraded port equipment, including conveyor belts and sheds and improved procedures for transporting mineral to, and monitoring dust and air at, the Port plans to completely replace its current metals handling equipment;
  • employed two additional full-time environmental officers at the Port Authority and strengthened its board with two new directors;
  • increased the DEC operational presence in Esperance; and initiated a State-wide assessment of all WA ports handling bulk mineral exports
  • initiated a State-wide assessment of all WA ports handling bulk mineral exports.

Minister’s office: 9213 6400

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