Media Release: Dr Jeannette Young, Media Response

New Mount Isa air quality report reinforces mitigation measures in place

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young

The health impacts of environmental lead in Mount Isa are widely recognised and their
management has been a priority for the State Government.

While these impacts cannot be entirely removed, various steps can and have been taken to
mitigate and minimise them.

A wide range of initiatives have been developed to promote living safely in a lead environment such as Mount Isa.

These include greening Mount Isa, undertaking promotional activities at local primary and
childcare centres/kindergarten and development of guidance material.

Information regarding the impact to health from exposure to lead, how exposure occurs,
precautionary actions and personal exposure surveillance options are readily available and
actively promoted in the Mount Isa community.

Glencore Mount Isa Mines over recent years also has strengthened its lead dust management programs to reduce community exposure as part of its new Environmental Authority.

So long as people are well informed and take the appropriate and recommended protective and mitigation measures to minimise their and their children’s exposure to lead, I believe Mount Isa remains a safe place in which to live.

Indeed, the range of recommendations suggested by the newly completed Lead Pathway Study – Air report into air quality at Mount Isa reinforce measures that are already in place and working to reduce the risks of lead exposure to the community.

As the chair of the Mount Isa Lead Health Management Committee, I am pleased to say many of these recommendations have been implemented over the past several years by Glencore Mount Isa Mines, by health authorities, the local council and the Lead Alliance which undertakes extensive education programs in the community.

These recommendations highlight the importance of:

  • The continued monitoring of blood lead levels in children at Mount Isa;
  • The need to undertake personal and home hygiene measures to minimise lead risks;
  • The maintenance and strengthening of existing controls to minimise the transfer of lead
    dust from the mine site at Mount Isa.

I note, however, that the data used in the Air Report is outdated and may not be reflective of
current conditions in Mount Isa and improvements in monitoring and technology.

For instance, the Mount Isa Lead Health Management Committee has noted an ongoing trend of improved air quality in relation to lead concentrations in Mount Isa since 2011, when the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection issued a new Environmental Authority for the mine which reflected contemporary air quality measures consistent with the national standard.

As a result, in the past few years I have been pleased to see that airborne lead levels at Mount Isa have been below national guidelines.

I also agree with the study finding that the risk of lead exposure to children in Mount Isa is mostly from ingestion of lead dust particles.

This underlines the importance of undertaking the recommended personal and home hygiene measures to minimise exposure to lead dust particles, as well as maintaining controls to minimise the transfer of lead dust from the mine site.

Thanks to the various education and intervention programs in place, I am pleased to see that
current blood lead level testing programs in Mount Isa indicate average blood lead levels recorded in tested children under five have been falling gradually since the initial children’s blood lead level survey in 2006-2007.

These results indicate that the lead health management programs and strategies we have put in place are having a positive impact and the Mount Isa Lead Health Management Committee will continue building on these.

For instance, in September 2016, finger prick testing for blood lead levels was introduced in Mount Isa to supplement the existing free venous blood lead tests that have been available for all residents through QML since 2010 and at Mount Isa Hospital for children under five since August 2014.

This form of testing is quicker and much less invasive than venous blood testing and will allow primary health care providers in Mount Isa, such as Gidgee Healing, also to offer tests to children, thereby broadening the blood lead level monitoring base.

The Lead Pathway Study – Air report was commissioned by Glencore Mount Isa Mines and prepared by the University of Queensland Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, in collaboration with the National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology.

ENDS

Media Release: Dr Jeanette Young

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young

Mount Isa already has an extensive free blood lead level testing program available for residents.

Free blood lead level testing has been available since 2010 for all residents through QML and funded by Glencore Mount Isa Mines.

Blood lead level testing of children under five also has been undertaken at Mount Isa Hospital since August 2014.

These programs have been well-publicised.

In September 2016, finger prick testing for blood lead levels also was introduced in Mount Isa to supplement the existing free venous blood lead tests that are available through QML and Mount Isa Hospital.

Finger prick testing is currently being offered at four sites in Mount Isa, which are Gidgee Healing, Sonic Health Plus–Mount Isa GP Super Clinic, the North West Hospital and Health Service Child Health Services and the North West HHS Paediatric Outpatients.

This form of testing is quicker and much less invasive than venous blood testing and allows greater participation of young children, thereby broadening the testing base.

The aim is to offer testing at the same time as giving immunisations – at ages 6 months, 12 months, 18 months and 3½ years, but children can still be tested up to five years of age.

Thanks to the various education and intervention programs in place, it is pleasing to note that the current blood lead level testing programs in Mount Isa indicate average blood lead levels recorded in tested children under five are falling gradually since the initial children’s blood lead level survey in 2006-2007.

These results indicate that the lead health management programs and strategies we have put in place are having a positive impact and the Mount Isa Lead Health Management Committee will continue building on these.

ENDS

 

Lead Pathways Study Air Report released

Mount Isa Mines has today released the Lead Pathways Study Air Report, concluding years of research and analysis into the pathways and potential health impacts of lead in the Mount Isa community.

In 2006, Mount Isa Mines commissioned The University of Queensland (UQ) to undertake a series of three studies to better understand the impacts of industrial and naturally occurring lead in the environment. The Land Report was released in 2009 and the Water Report was released in 2012.

The Air Report builds on the findings of the land and water studies and concluded that the potential exposure risk of children from inhalation was limited and mostly related to ingestion via hand to mouth activity.

The study reinforced the importance of Mount Isa residents taking active steps to minimise their exposure to lead and participate in regular blood lead level testing, particularly young children.

Led by UQ Associate Professor Barry Noller and Dr Jack Ng, the Air Report covered the period 2006 to 2013 and included a health risk assessment that focused on children under five years of age.

Chief Operating Officer for Glencore’s Copper Assets in Australia Mike Westerman said the studies were one of a number of inputs that Mount Isa Mines considered as part of its approach to continuous improvement of the site’s environmental performance.

“Our environmental initiatives are aligned with the Air Report’s recommendations and we are proactively supporting the Lead Alliance to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining a clean home, good personal hygiene and a nutritious diet,” he said.

“As modern regulations and accepted science has evolved, so has Mount Isa Mines.

“Since acquiring the operation in 2003, we have invested more than $500 million to improve our environmental performance.

“This has included industry-leading initiatives, particularly targeting air and water quality improvements.

“Over the past ten years Mount Isa Mines has reduced its total annual heavy metals emissions by between 60% and 96%.

“Today we manage one of the most comprehensive air quality monitoring systems of any Australian city, with each resident being within 1,200 metres of a monitoring unit.”

Mount Isa Mines operates within a Queensland Government-managed regulatory regime, with over 80 permits and authorities that include stringent reporting obligations.

“Our people and their families live locally and we call Mount Isa home, so the wellbeing of the community and the responsible operation of our mine will always be our priority,” Mr Westerman said.

“We urge residents to support the work of the Lead Alliance and be proactive about managing their exposure to lead.”

Mount Isa Mines will be implementing four new initiatives in 2017, including:

  • Boosting financial support of the Lead Alliance by $100,000 to help the organisation expand their reach and increase access to health programs in the Mount Isa community.
  • Providing an additional $50,000 to the Lead Alliance to develop a smartphone application aimed at driving positive behavioural changes with tips, reminders and blood lead level tracking.
  • Releasing a monthly Air Quality Dashboard via the Mount Isa Mines website to provide greater transparency about the operation’s performance against key environmental indicators.
  • Investing in additional targeted community health initiatives as part of the Glencore Community Program North Queensland, including those focused on Mount Isa’s Indigenous community.

ENDS

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Quick blood lead level results for young children

Parents will soon be able to get young children’s lead levels tested at primary health care providers and at the North West Hospital and Health Service (NWHHS), thanks to funding for lead testing machines.

The Office of the Chief Medical Officer has funded four machines, valued at approximately $4,000 each. Kerri O’Connor, NWHHS Nurse Unit Manager for Maternal Child and Youth Health, says the new testing method is much quicker and less invasive than a venous blood test.

“The point of care finger prick test with these machines will only take a few minutes, and the results will be available in 15 minutes. We are aiming to offer the test at the same time as giving immunisations – at age 6 months, 12 months, 18 months and 3 ½ years, but children can still be tested up to five years in age,” Ms O’Connor said.

The four machines will be used by Gidgee Healing, Sonic Health Plus- Mount Isa GP Super Clinic, and the NWHHS Child Health Services and Paediatric Outpatients. The lead level testing will be available at the beginning of October.

A year’s funding has also been granted for the test strips, which cost $15 for each patient. Ms O’Connor said the tests are reliable and have been used in Broken Hill for the past 20 years. She is hoping it will increase the amount of blood testing for lead in young children. “There has been a significant drop in children being tested for blood lead levels; we have very low testing rates at the moment.

“We want parents to get their children tested, if the lead level results are high, we refer the patient to a GP, and we look at their environment.

“We live in a lead-rich environment, and kids eat dirt – that’s just a fact of life – but there are changes to the environment that can be made, such as damping down dirt and dust in the yards, ensuring grass is grown to cover the dirt, and carrying out the measures advocated by The Lead Alliance: healthy eating, washing hands before eating and after handling pets, keeping pets outside, wet wiping surfaces in the home.”

Ms O’Connor said The Lead Alliance would be producing a poster about the new blood lead testing machines.

The Chair of The Lead Alliance, Robbie Katter, said the Alliance was thrilled to have the extra testing available in Mount Isa.

“We’ll be able to get more children tested, the test is not as invasive as the venous testing, and the results are immediately available.

“In the meantime it’s still very important for families to keep sticking to those positive messages such as the wet wipe message: wiping down all household surfaces regularly with a wet cloth and wet mopping hard floors; washing hands before eating, after playing outside and after handling pets.

“The eat well message is to reinforce the fact that good nutrition reduces the absorption of lead from the stomach into the blood stream, especially important with children,” Mr Katter said.

Ends.

For further information contact:
Liz MacIntyre
Acting Media and Communications Officer
North West Hospital and Health Service
Phone: 0747640215 or 0437 695 799
elizabeth.macintyre@health.qld.gov.au

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