Report into Mount Isa’s air quality finds residents need to do their bit


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IN A small Queensland city, families and small children have suffered from lead poisoning.

For years, there have been calls for an inquiry into the air quality in Mount Isa, a town known for its mining operations, after some residents acquired brain damage or blood poisoning while living there.

Residents have been waiting 11 years for Mount Isa Mines to release a report into the lead contamination in the town. The wait is over, but the report argues residents are responsible for keeping themselves out of harm’s way.

In 2010, a medical report showed two children were suffering brain damage after being exposed to mining emissions in Mount Isa and The Australian reported Queensland Health testing in 2008 found 11 per cent of children, aged between one and four, had dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.

Another study in 2010 found a child was getting lead poisoning every nine days, but mining giant Xstrata, who formally owned Mount Isa Mines, and the Queensland government at the time, continued to deny mining was causing health issues in the town.



Bethany Sanders was one child who suffered from lead contamination in Mount Isa.

She was just 20 months old when it was discovered she had lead poisoning.

Theodore Lidsky, an adjunct professor of neuroscience at City University of New York, told The Australian tests determined she was “mentally retarded”.

ABC’s 7.30 program reported in 2010 Bethany had a blood lead level 2.5 times the maximum recommended limit.

Straight after finding out the results, Bethany’s mother Sharnelle Seeto packed up their things and moved them to Brisbane. She was pregnant with another child and she did not want to expose the new baby to the mining emissions. The family had moved to Mount Isa in 2006.

Another mum, Daphne Hare, also saw her daughter develop an illness from the lead. Her daughter, Stella, was one of the first cases.

“It was very intimidating, our life became public business, mine people would park out the front of the house taking photos of her playing in the yard,” she told the Courier Mail.

“They would point at me in the street and say ‘it is her causing the trouble’. I had to get out of there.”

In 2011 Ms Hare sued Xstrata, Mount Isa Mines, Mount Isa City Council and the state government. She lodged a claim for $1 million, as did Ms Seeto.

According the Courier Mail, Ms Hare alleged her child had brain damage and an impairment in her fine motor skills.



In 2013, AAP reported lead was coming from the sky in Mount Isa. Mount Isa Mines claimed lead deposits were natural and coming from an ore body beneath the ground but a Macquarie University Professor said they were coming from the mine’s lead smelter.

Professor Mark Taylor and his team examined air, dust, water and soil samples taken from around Mount Isa and found lead was present in most of the samples.

The levels of lead in the air kept rising throughout the year and Professor Taylor said it was clear lead was coming from the sky and not the ore body.

“There is no other sensible, logical, scientific explanation except that the lead is being deposited from the atmosphere,” he said.

“There’s nothing natural about that”.

Professor Taylor said towns should never be built close to mines.


A report into the air quality in Mount Isa was released this month and while the mining company took some responsibility for contaminating Mount Isa, the report found there would be less of a risk if locals in the area did their bit.

The report found the major source of lead exposure was from ingesting it in the community and it’s up to locals to keep their homes and children away from dust to avoid exposing them to contamination. The report found children were contaminated if they came in contact with lead-contaminated surfaces in their own homes.

Young children are most at risk because contamination can hinder their development.

Mike Westerman, the Mount Isa Mines’ chief operating officer, told the ABC the town was a safe place if everybody did the right thing.

“I don’t think there’s another area where you’ve got such a large industrialised complex on the doorstep of a town of around … 24,000,” he said.

“Our focus here is making sure that interaction doesn’t result in any harm to the community.

“This report recommends that there are certain behaviours and certain changes, simple changes that people can make to their lives that will allow them not to have elevated lead levels.”

A community brochure for Mount Isa residents urges parents to monitor the blood levels of their young children to make sure health management actions can be taken if they are exposed to lead.

It’s also recommended locals keep their homes clear of dust and consider replaces carpet with timber or other hard floor coverings. Hard floors should be cleaned with phosphate-based cleaning agents. Personal hygiene and washed fruit and vegetables will also minimise the risk.

— with AAP

Online Source: The News

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