Children suffer lead poisoning in Aussie mining town: study

2nd August 2010, Comments 0 comments

A child develops lead poisoning every nine days in an Australian mining town where mining giant Xstrata is facing legal action over high levels of lead found in children's blood, a study showed Monday.

The report in the Medical Journal of Australia was published as Xstrata defends itself from allegations by some families from the Queensland town of Mount Isa that its activities have left children poisoned or brain damaged.

"There are about 400 children born every year in Mount Isa and about 11 percent of those children, according to the last blood lead study, have a blood lead level in excess of the current acceptable guideline value," said the report's co-author Professor Mark Taylor.

"When you do all the numbers, it works out it's about every nine days a child will be unnecessarily exposed to lead -- a situation that could be prevented," he told public broadcaster ABC.

The report said the evidence was "clear" that smelting and mining activity in the town, where Xstrata has operated two copper mines and a copper smelter since 2003, was the single primary source for the environmental lead.

"A purported lack of knowledge of the lead source is no longer a tenable response," Taylor wrote.

Children exposed to high lead levels could be irreversibly robbed of five percent of their IQ, Taylor said.

Lawyer Damian Scattini, who is representing seven families suing Xstrata over the alleged brain damage and poisoning of their children, claimed a public health risk remained in the remote eastern Australian town.

"You have levels in one house of 15,000 parts per million of lead whereas the upper level by the government's standard is 400," he said, adding that six out of the seven families he represents have left the town.

Xstrata spokesman Steve de Kruijff took issue with the claims in the report, saying the company had always acted responsibly.

"Mount Isa has one of the most intensive air quality monitoring systems of any city in Australia which directs our smelters to shut down whenever emissions may potentially impact the community," he said in a statement.

Xstrata is one third of the way through a lead study, the first part of which examined land contamination and was finished in July last year, while other phases examining air and water contamination will be completed by 2011.

© 2010 AFP

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