Toxic Truth: Boolaroo lead problems sidelined

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THE issue of lead in petrol in the early 1990s ‘‘stole the debate’’ from the public health disaster of excessive blood lead levels in children at Lake Macquarie, Hunter public health officials warned in 1993.

‘‘While reducing lead in petrol should remain a high priority, communities near sources of lead contamination should not be overlooked,’’ wrote Hunter Area Health Service public health unit scientists Dr Judy Galvin and Dr John Stephenson.

But the lead in petrol issue dominated both state and federal studies in the 1990s, while Broken Hill’s problems with high blood lead levels in children tended to overshadow Boolaroo and Argenton’s pollution problems caused by Pasminco lead smelter.

Boolaroo and Argenton received ‘‘scant attention’’ in the  NSW Government lead issues paper, published in 1993, Dr Galvin and Dr Stephenson noted in their report, Living near a lead smelter: an environmental health risk assessment in Boolaroo and Argenton.

Dr Galvin and Dr Stephenson were critical of the Environment Protection Authority’s handling of Pasminco’s proposal to increase production at the Pasminco smelter.

While an environmental impact statement addressed the issue of lowering lead emissions from the smelter, it did not address the issue of existing soil contamination which was the result of decades of lead production from the site.

If the environmental impact statement had been required to include a health-risk assessment, existing contamination ‘‘would have been examined in relation to health risk, and environmental remediation would be at the forefront of the environmental impact statement agenda’’, Dr Galvin and Dr Stephenson said.

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