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Qld govt releases Mt Isa lead poisoning repor -

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Qld govt releases Mt Isa lead poisoning report

The World Today - Thursday, 22 May , 2008 12:31:55

Reporter: Annie Guest

ELEANOR HALL: As we go to air the Queensland Government is releasing a report on lead poisoning in
the mining town of Mount Isa.

Health officials have been testing the blood-lead levels of 400 young children in the western
Queensland town in response to allegations about more than a decade of neglect of the problem.

And there are predictions that today's report could have legal ramifications for the Government and
the mine owner, Xstrata.

Annie Guest has been examining the report and she joins us now.

So Annie, who wrote this report and what does it say?

ANNIE GUEST: Eleanor, Queensland Health, the State Health Department, wrote the 49-page report. It
confirms that 11 per cent of the children tested have blood-lead levels above World Health
Organisation guidelines, that is, above 10 micrograms per decilitre, and that Aboriginal children
have higher lead levels on average than non-Indigenous children. In fact they're four times more
likely to have this problem.

ELEANOR HALL: Does the report say what effect these higher lead levels have on the children?

ANNIE GUEST: Well it is a lengthy report just released a few minutes ago so I haven't had a change
to digest the whole document, but a quick read of the summary shows no specific information about
the effect on these children.

But general information about the association between high blood-lead levels in early childhood and
impaired cognitive development, reduced attention span and poorer performance at schools, and in
fact several Mount Isa residents have been complaining of just that amongst their children.

ELEANOR HALL: And what about the cause of the high lead levels? Does the report go into that?

ANNIE GUEST: Well the summary doesn't say what causes the high lead levels but the recommendations
do refer to improving dust mitigation measures from the mine.

Xstrata mines copper, silver, zinc and lead and the mine sits directly adjacent to the city. In
fact the smoke stack is clearly visible from the city streets. And it is Australia's highest
emitter of several substances including lead, according to the National Pollutant Registry.

Xstrata has previously said that that data is taken on site and doesn't relate to exposure in the
community and that it's everywhere, in the soils and rocks, around the community.

ELEANOR HALL: Any other recommendations?

ANNIE GUEST: Yes, look, the other recommendations include continuing to monitor the results of
blood-lead levels and actively managing them below that World Health Organisation limit; a
follow-up study in 2012 of those children; and education messages to the community about living
with lead and in particular reducing that hand-to-mouth contact between soil and young children.

ELEANOR HALL: And are there any legal consequences of this report for the State Government and the
mining company?

ANNIE GUEST: Well already the Queensland Government, the Mount Isa City Council and Xstrata are
facing legal action by parents with lead-affected children. Some have spoken about launching action
but one particular family has launched court action.

There is a broad context here in that way back in 1990 there was an accidental discovery of
suspected contamination. There was then blood screening in 1992 that found high lead, blood-lead
levels amongst children and then allegations of inaction since then.

ELEANOR HALL: Annie Guest in Queensland, thank you.