Port Pirie blood lead levels drop

 Port Pirie has recorded its lowest ever blood lead level in local children.

According to a South Australian Health report, from January until September the number of children with levels of less than ten micrograms per deciliter has increased from less than half in 2005 to around 75%, the Port Pirie Recorder reports.

On top of this, the geometric mean lead levels have also fallen to five micrograms per deciliter while the mean of children aged 24 months more than 11% in 2006 to only 5.9%.

According to Nyrstar general manager Glenn Poynter the drop in the mean for children aged 24 months was a highlight.

"That is an important age for the program because blood level increases from zero to 24 months, peaks at 24 months and then comes down," he said.

"That is a key measure of success of the Ten for Them program."

The Ten for Them program aims to ensure that newborn children and those aged up to four years old in Port Pirie have blood lead levels below ten micrograms per deciliter.

Nyrstar runs the smelter in Port Pirie, which is the largest primary lead smelter in the world.

However, SA Health noted that fewer children were tested this year.

Other Australian towns with active lead smelters have also registered a drop in local children’s blood lead levels.

In Esperance last year, a report by Golder Associates found that the levels of lead contamination no longer posed a risk to humans.

The Golder report said dangerously high levels should no longer exist at the port, as lead was no longer being handled.

"No short-term health risks were identified for children and adults, as levels of lead in rainwater, soil or dust were not high enough to cause acute health effects," it stated.

"No long-term health risks were identified for children and adults when realistic long-term predictions of exposure to lead and nickel were used."

However, the report recommended further clean ups and investigations into the remaining lead in rainwater and homes.

At Mount Isa, Xstrata has long been in focus for the effects its lead smelting has on the local populace.

Despite claims of lead poisoning, recent studies by Queensland health have shown a significant drop in the blood lead levels of children in Mount Isa.

The study found that only 4.8% of children tested showed lead intensity above that recommended by the WHO, a drop from 11.3% in earlier studies.

Despite being unsure of what was behind the drop, Queensland Health welcomed it.

However, toxicologist Mark Little believed that greater education was behind the reduction.


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