Toxic Truth: Blood tests begin, but parents still concerned

The Napper family in their back yard after their test: Kristy-Lee, Kayla, 5, James, and Riley, 3. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
The Napper family in their back yard after their test: Kristy-Lee, Kayla, 5, James, and Riley, 3. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

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JAMES and Kristy-Lee Napper have ‘‘mixed feelings’’ about their children’s blood-lead levels, saying they are relieved the results are below the intervention level but are still concerned about the lead-contaminated environment.

The Nappers were among the north Lake Macquarie families who visited Hunter New England Health’s Boolaroo Blood Lead Screening Clinic on Monday, its first day of operation.

The couple’s five-year-old daughter Kayla returned a reading of 4.3 micrograms per decilitre. Riley, 3, returned 8.3 micrograms per decilitre, before his fingers were cleaned and a subsequent test measured 3.3 micrograms.

The National Health and Medical Research Council has said a blood-lead level greater than five micrograms per decilitre requires an investigation of, and reduction in, exposure to lead.

‘‘I’m relieved it’s not over five micrograms but I still have concerns that they do have a detectable reading,’’ Mrs Napper said.

‘‘They’ve been playing in the dirt this afternoon – that’s what scares me, they’re still getting contaminated. There is no safe level of lead.’’

HNEH Public Health Physician Craig Dalton said there had been a ‘‘steady stream’’ of bookings since the clinic was announced on Thursday and the first day of operation had been ‘‘almost full’’.

‘‘We’ve received positive feedback today with one client who participated in an earlier round of screening commenting on how quick and painless the point of care screening method is,’’ Dr Dalton said of the finger prick testing.

The Environment Protection Authority has paid for every participant in the free testing program to receive a $20 gift voucher, which Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan likened to a ‘‘bribe’’.

Mr Sullivan supported the testing to provide a ‘‘point in time guide’’, but said most concerned parents would not need an incentive.

‘‘They want people to turn up to be tested in winter because that’s the most beneficial time for the government to get low levels,’’ he said. ‘‘To use children’s levels as a statistic for the necessity to continue or not continue to remediate contaminated soils is abhorrent.’’

The Nappers participated in the Lead Abatement Strategy and said that while some areas were covered with soil and replaced with grass, others, including the floor of the cubby house, were not touched. Mr Napper has since moved the cubby on top of fresh turf.

‘‘Kids will be kids,’’ he said. ‘‘We try to stop them, but we shouldn’t have to.’’

The Nappers said they couldn’t understand why the former Pasminco smelter site was required to be remediated to 300 parts per million (PPM) for lead in soil, while the Environment Protection Authority allowed thresholds of 1000 parts per million in surrounding residential areas.

When the  Newcastle Herald and Macquarie University conducted testing last year, the Napper’s property recorded readings as high as 2000 parts per million in some areas.

‘‘There’s been no indication that anybody’s coming back to reach the target of 300 or even 1000 PPM,’’ Mr Napper said.

Pregnant women and children aged six months to  five  years from Boolaroo, Speers Point and Argenton can be tested at 51 Main Road, Boolaroo. For appointments call 49246477 or visit  leadscreen.info.

The  Napper family of Third Street, Boolaroo after having their kids tested. Pictured From left, Kristy-Lee, Tinkerbell the dog, Kayla, 5, James, and Riley, 3, in their backyard. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

The Napper family of Third Street, Boolaroo after having their kids tested. Pictured From left, Kristy-Lee, Tinkerbell the dog, Kayla, 5, James, and Riley, 3, in their backyard. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

The former Pasminco site at Boolaroo before it was decommisioned and dismantled.

The former Pasminco site at Boolaroo before it was decommisioned and dismantled.