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I note, however, that the data used in the Air Report is outdated and may not be reflective of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.