Study shows lead concerns at Mt. Isa

A new study has found a categorical link between mining activities in Mount Isa and lead contamination in local children.

A scientific study that examined air, dust and soil samples found chemical evidence mining activity is responsible.

But Mining company Xstrata has always maintained lead contamination in the city happens naturally due to what’s in the ground, The Australian reported.

Co-author Professor Mark Taylor’s study was published in the journal Environmental Pollution. He said there are not enough health precautions.

He specifically pointed out air quality standards have not been properly defined.

“They do meet lead-in-air guidelines but averaged over a year…it doesn’t take into account short-term emissions across the town,” Taylor told the ABC.

“It’s those short-term emissions that dose the town with lead, and blanketed the residential areas that then later exposed the children.”

Taylor’s study examined the samples collected from and around homes and public places in Mount Isa between 2005 and 2008.

“The data in the study tells us it’s absolutely clear those emissions are reaching the town and are the source and cause of lead that we find in the urban area of Mount Isa,” he said.

“There is no other reasonable or feasible explanation for the source and cause of the lead poisoning in Mount Isa children.”

Lawyers representing residents worried about the consequences of mining have partly funded the study.

Xstrata's Mout Isa mines have been the centre of health concerns for many years, with a number of people blaming the mine for causing diseases.

A former Mount Isa Mines worker filed a complaint against Xstrata after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Ernest Tanna claimed his cancer was caused by exposure to dangerous materials while working at the lead smelter.

A $1 million lawsuit was launched against the company by a Townsville mother in 2011, claiming her daughter suffered from lead poisoning. She said her nine-year-old daughter was diagnosed with irreversible brain damage.

The mine faced a second $1 million lawsuit from Sharlene Body after her six-year-old son Sidney recorded blood levels of  more than three times the recommended safety limit.

A study in 2008 found 11 per cent of Mount Isa children had excess levels of lead, which can result in severe brain damage.

But investigations at the Mount Isa Mines in 2010 found it did not exceed legal levels in the final quarter of 2009.

The mining company is carrying out its own research into air quality, as well as a human health risk assessment, and said the research will conclude later this year.

Mount Isa Mayor Tony McGrady is sceptical Taylor’s report, saying it is nothing new and tha Taylor has compiled similar reports in the past, the ABC reported.

“We should not dismiss anything at all – but before people start getting excited they should understand and realise where this gentleman is coming from,” he said.

“This gentleman has a history over many many years of furnishing similar reports to the one that he’s done now.”

Xstrata launched a program in 2011 to promote regular physical activity for children in local parks and give parents tips on healthy eating in Mount Isa.

The Xstrata's Healthy Kids program received backing from local schools and a Queensland health nutritionist. The company provided activities free of charge.