This story is shocking. The results of a study published in a prestigous Medical Journal this week, show that in Mt Isa a public health tragedy is unfolding which has the potential to be one of the worst industrial disasters in Australian history.The article below reports the damning findings of the Medical Journal of Australia study which has found that a child in Mt. Isa currently develops lead poisoning every nine days. 11% of the 400 kids born every year in Mt Isa have lead poisoning. Even scarier is the fact that only a quarter of children in Mt. Isa have been checked. The Queensland Government is being accused of seriously underplaying the issue.
However the MJA study should represent the end of denials by mining behemoth xstrata and the Queensland Government about the true source of lead poisoning in the Mt. Isa community.
“A purported lack of knowledge of the lead source is no longer a tenable response and provides no long term resolution for Xstrata, the government or the children of Mt Isa whose futures are at risk”.
"The evidence is clear. There is a single primary source of environmental lead in Mt Isa: the historic and ongoing mining and smelting activity," wrote study author Mark Taylor.
The game's up: the lead is not naturally occurring," .
"It's an inescapable conclusion that the source of the metals is mining and smelting activities" Professor Taylor said
Last year, a study also found lead contamination in the soil around Mount Isa was worse than that near similar mines in China. Now seven families are suing Xstrata
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh's response to all this?
Bligh argued that the Queensland Government was doing all it could to protect the health of children in Mount Isa. Bligh said, “We've seen those children who did have unacceptable high levels of lead reduced from 7.5 per cent to 5 per cent…I should stress that this is a minority of children but we are doing everything in our power to fix it.”
A "minority of children" said the Queensland Premier.
Being part of that 'minority' is cold comfort for parents like Daphne Hare, mother of a Stella, a schoolgirl at the centre of a seven family class action against Xstrata over the alleged lead toxicity in Mt Isa.
Hare said her eight-year-old daughter Stella was spending "increasing amounts of time in hospital with health and learning difficulties related to the elevated levels of lead in her blood.
"She's not a well child at the moment".
She's got gastro-intestinal problems... and intellectual disabilities," Hare said.
"She's having problems in areas where (teachers) explain things to her, and ten seconds later she's forgotten what they said," Hare added of her daughter's struggles at school.
"She's receiving counselling to deal with her intellectual disabilities."
For Daphne Hare, the case goes beyond compensation or a question of sums.
"You can't put a price on a child," she said.
"For me it's about what they're doing with these kids. It's about justice for these children."
And in the spirit of small town redneckery the likes of which we have seen from politicians in Tasmania defending the Gunns Pulp Mill, Mount Isa Mayor John Molony responded to the MJOA study saying, “We're a working town and a great town. The bloke who wrote that is working in hospital-like conditions in a big city - he wouldn't understand life out here.”
Can this public health tragedy really be happening in Australia, one of the most affluent and so called "developed societies" on earth?
Australians have been led to believe by the mining, oil, gas and logging industries that we live in an era when industry has cleaned up its act and our families are guaranteed protection through 'cleaner, greener' or 'environmentally neutral' heavy industrial projects?
Or is the reality that communities like Mt Isa and the Tamar Valley in Tasmania are being take for the same old ride. A con, greenwashed.
Indeed, the tragedy being played out in Mt.Isa should serve as a warning to the enthusiastic backers of the construction of the worlds 3rd Largest Kraft Pulp Mill around 1km from residents and working vineyards in the Tamar Valley a community of 100,000 people. In Mt Isa we see a pattern of Government and corporate cosying that Tasmanians have become all to accustomed to. Government siding with the corporation against the interests of the broader community as public health suffers.
The question Tasmanian's need to ask, with one of the single largest heavy industrial developments being fast tracked and shoe horned into the Tamar Valley, by a Tasmanian government which became notorious for its embarrassingly subservient relationship to the pulp mill's proponent , Gunns, is will Tasmania see a similar environmental and public health disaster unfold in the Tamar Valley?
Both Gunns and the Tasmanian government have persistently and deliberately ignored warnings from experts in the RPDC and from the Australian Medical Association about the public and environmental risks associated with siting this type of industry at the Longreach site in the Tamar Valley.
As Richard Flanagan argued in his award winning article Out of Control ......."Though the Tasmanian chapter of the AMA warned Tasmania's political leaders that they would be personally accountable for any health problems resulting from the proposed pulp mill, the leaders were listening not to such dire concerns but rather to the Gunns board, with whom Premier Lennon and his kitchen cabinet met on 25 February. Two days later, Gunns told the Australian Stock Exchange it was "confident the necessary government approvals" for its pulp mill "will be obtained within a timeframe which maintains the commercial value of the project".
Indeed, in September 2006 the Tasmanian branch of the AMA put out a media release advising that ...."it would not support the proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill due to serious health omissions and gaps in the integrated impact statement. AMA Tasmania has supported the independent RPDC assessment process to publicly attend to and resolve our identified omissions and gaps. The health related gaps identified by AMA Tasmania in September have not been answered. Any expedient compromise on health standards is completely unacceptable.
In August 2007 after the Tasmanian Parliament passed Premier Paul Lennon's tick-in-the-box fast track Gunns pulp mill bill The AMA then put out another statement saying it could not support the project as it was "concerned that the Tasmanian Resource Planning & Development Commission (TRPDC) assessment has been replaced by a much less rigorous but government-sanctioned, fast-track process.
“This is not acceptable for an industrial development of international magnitude with possible significant public health consequences,” Dr Andrew Jackosn said.
The AMA has particular concerns regarding four potential health issues which,
when taken together, may constitute unacceptable risk:.....
Particulate air pollution in a valley with a well-documented atmospheric inversion layer close to a large population centre.
Odour having more than mere nuisance value with adverse health effects such as nausea, headache, and respiratory symptoms.
Increased heavy vehicle traffic-related accidents.
Bioaccumulation of toxins in the food chain such as dioxins and furans.
A decade ago, the Federal Government recognised Launceston had the worst particle pollution in the country, and spent $2 million trying to phase out woodheaters. Whilst Launceston has seen some improvement, doctors blame the community's high levels of respiratory disease on excessive minute particles.
Dr Michael Aizen from the AMA argued that Gunns' proposed pulp mill with its 130-metre-high smokestack will add even more particles and chemicals to the air sheet saying ............."it is almost certain that the Tamar Valley will act as a wind tunnel and actually concentrate and move air pollution into Launceston". It is poor policy. It is poor government, and it is gambling with the health of people in Launceston". said Dr Aizen.
Those Tamar Valley fogs which occur in Autumn and Winter also make driving dangerous.
The RPDC warned that this problem would be worsened with a tonne of water vapour expelled into the atmosphere for every tonne of pulp produced. In Alabama, USA, there is a drying facility that produces water vapour in similar quantities and this produces 'white-outs' on local highways that have been responsible for multiple pile-ups and deaths. Only a few weeks ago right in the middle of our winter there was a 16 car piled up in 3 seperate prangs on the ET highway due to fog. Yet the state government are still determined to see a doubling of log truck traffic on this road with the proposed Longreach pulp mill.
I'm not sure whether the Xstrata mine is ensrhined in state law as the proposed Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill is in Tasmania, but even if it is, i doubt whether Xstrata's mining operations have been bullet proofed from community legal redress as the Gunns project has.
Read on below and also listen to the report by ABC's World Today Programme here or read here
Child poisoned every 9 days in mine town Mount Isa
by Michael Mckenna and Andrew Fraser.
A CHILD develops lead poisoning every nine days in the northwest Queensland mining town of Mount Isa, claims a new study.
Two years after Queensland Health testing found 11 per cent of the town's children had lead poisoning, researchers have accused Xstrata and the Bligh government of doing nothing.
The study, published yesterday in the Medical Journal of Australia, suggested that one child every nine days was exposed to dangerously high lead levels.
Macquarie University associate professor Mark Taylor, the report's co-author, said that mining giant Xstrata and the Queensland government had continually denied that mining activity was the cause of high lead levels in blood in the town.
"This study finally puts that theory to rest -- we've looked at the evidence, that includes . . . things like soil and geology, and they all point in the same direction -- that it's the processing of the soil, not what's in the soil, which is the cause of the problem.
"Cleaning up the river is good, but that's the easy part. It's cleaning up what comes out in the air which is the hard part, and that's still not being addressed," he said.
Xstrata is co-ordinating the Lead Pathways Study, which deals with a survey of land pollution in Mt Isa, and the second and third parts, which deal with water and air pollution, are both due to be released next year.
Last year, a study found lead contamination in the soil around Mount Isa was worse than that near similar mines in China.
The report by one of the world's leading lead toxicology experts, American Russell Flegal, debunked Xstrata's claims that the lead poisoning in children was due to naturally high levels of the heavy metal in the region.
Instead, Professor Flegal, an adviser to the US Environmental Protection Agency on mining operations, concluded that historic and continuing emissions from the mine and smelting operations caused the lead poisoning. The report was commissioned by lawyers Slater and Gordon, representing several children with dangerously high lead blood levels, in a negligence case.
Solicitor Damian Scattini yesterday said the latest study by Dr Taylor -- who has completed paid work for the negligence case -- was further evidence that children were at risk in the town.
"You only have to go to the top of the hill in Mount Isa and watch those trucks going up to the slag heaps and see how the winds blow the dust off the top and across the town," he said.
In a written statement, Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Kate Jones said the government last year installed an air monitoring device at Mount Isa to monitor lead levels.
"Since this technology was installed, there have been no breaches of national standards in regards to lead in the air," she said.
Mount Isa mayor John Molony said: "We're a working town and a great town. The bloke who wrote that is working in hospital-like conditions in a big city -- he wouldn't understand life out here."