If it looks like a duck and swims like a duck…
There was a report published in the Medical Journal of Australia today with a finding which will come as no surprise to anyone, but will hopefully force those responsible to admit there is a problem. The topic of this report: lead pollution in the city of Mount Isa and the associated health impacts, especially for children.
According to the report, co-authored by Associate Professor Mark Taylor from Macquarie University, there is no doubt that the major source of environmental lead pollution in the city is from “the historic and ongoing mining and smelting activity” – activities which have formed a main focus in the community for over 80 years. The report then goes on to say that the “purported lack of knowledge of the lead source is no longer a tenable response” from stakeholders.
Can Xstrata and the State Government honestly affirm that they didn’t think the pollution – and resulting health problems – was primarily being caused lead production in Mount Isa? Is it just me, or is the smelting stack that rises over a quarter of a kilometre into the sky over the city a somewhat obvious clue? Not according to Xstrata, who have been fervently suggesting that the main cause of the problem lay with the high natural mineralisation of lead in the Mount Isa area. Plausible deniability seems to be a good angle, especially given the current legal action taking place against the mining giant.
In the lead screening program run by Queensland Health in Mount Isa during 2006-7, it was found that:
Results of the study show that the average blood lead level for the children tested was 5.0 μg/dL, the lowest with 1.3 μg/dL and the highest with 31.5 μg/dL. Forty-five children (11.3% of those in the study group) had blood lead levels greater than or equal to 10 μg/dL. Of these, two children (0.5% of the study group) had blood lead levels greater than 20 μg/dL.
To make sense of this, consider that μg/dL is a unit of measurement which equates to the micrograms of lead per 100 millilitres of blood, and that similar testing of children in uncontaminated, urban areas returned a result of around 2 μg/dL. That’s right, the children tested in Mount Isa as part of the study had lead levels, on average, twice that of those in other areas, with the highest result being over fifteen times the norm. There is undoubtedly a major problem in Mount Isa with lead pollution, and it would now seemingly be confirmed that the primary cause of the pollution is the mining operation taking place in the city. Given that there hasn’t been any testing on older children in Mount Isa, it is impossible to ascertain the full impact the lead levels will have, but Associate Professor Taylor states in the report that “”…there’s an effect on their behavioural patterns, ADHD, school scores and lifetime outcomes.”
One can only hope that the release of this glaring report in such a well-respected publication prompts an authentic reaction from both the State Government and Xstrata, instead of the specious response to date. I am surprised Bob Katter, the Federal Member for Kennedy, hasn’t made more of a noise about this issue. One of the qualities I admire most about him is his predilection to call a spade a spade. He generally doesn’t seem too fussed with who he upsets in trying to be heard, but I am at a loss as to why the man under the ten gallon hat has been so quiet about an issue which is having a direct impact on his constituents.
NB: I have sent Bob Katter an email with a copy of/link to this post in the hope that he will respond with his thoughts – we will see what happens.