Toxic Truth: Residents lived happily unaware of hidden danger of town’s heavy metals

BOOLAROO was comfortable with its smelter town identity when newlyweds Lyn and Pat Hinds moved into Second Street in 1976.

The big smelly industry provided secure employment for hundreds of locals and, apart from the odd plume of foul gas, didn’t worry anyone. After all, it had been that way for almost a century.


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‘‘Many a night we couldn’t sleep [because of the smell and noise], but the general attitude was it was here first, that’s how it works, everyone should take it on board,’’ Ms Hinds said.

Life continued as normal for the next decade until some parents started looking for answers to explain their children’s behaviour and learning problems.

Ms Hinds’ eldest child Chad was struggling with his schoolwork and becoming increasingly difficult to control.

"Who will take the responsibility?": Lyn Hinds. Picture: Dean OSland

"Who will take the responsibility?": Lyn Hinds. Picture: Dean OSland

‘‘No one put it down to the fact that there were a lot of heavy metals around,’’ she said. ‘‘When Chad wasn’t at school he would always be outside playing in the dirt.’’

At the urging of parents, blood lead tests were done on Boolaroo Public School students in 1991.

Eighty-four per cent of children were found to have readings more than the national standard of 10 micrograms per decilitre of blood. Chad Hinds had a blood lead level of 30.

Public meetings attended by health and environmental experts became regular events as anxious residents demanded answers.

At the same time a civil war broke out among pro- and anti-smelter camps.

Ms Hinds, a founding member of the No Lead Group, recalled how she was ‘‘told to get out of the town’’.

‘‘I was spat on, my child was spat on ...  I knew a lady up in Fourth Street who used to get phone calls in the middle of the night. There were letterboxes continually blown up.

‘‘It was all quite sad. Of course no one could see Mr Lead walking around town; it was in the body and no one could see the problem.’’

Property prices across Boolaroo and surrounds tumbled throughout the 1990s and the government made it clear the smelter’s time was almost up.

As a parting gesture the company bought up heavily polluted homes in First, Second and Third streets.

GREW UP IN BOOLAROO: Chad Hinds. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

GREW UP IN BOOLAROO: Chad Hinds. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The company paid $140,000 for the Hinds’ house. They were one of four families who accepted the company’s valuations  in order to allow the creation of a child-free buffer zone adjacent to the plant.

‘‘We had the EPA and the health department go through our house. They took samples from our roof and [the lead level]  was 8, 9, 10 times higher than what it should have been. But there was no remediation done,’’ Ms Hinds said.

The Hinds no longer live in Boolaroo but regularly return to visit friends. 

Ms Hinds is sceptical about the decontamination of the former smelter site and the plans to build houses on part of the land.

‘‘If it happens in time to come that there is a problem, who will take the responsibility?’’ she asked.

‘‘How will the kids stand up and say ‘help us’ when it’s all finished and the heavy metals come forth again out of the ground?’’


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