Alannah MacTiernan

Alannah MacTiernan

Minister for Planning and Infrastructure

    Esperance clean-up continues as lead levels continue to fall

    27/02/2008 4:20 PM

    While a range of indicators show falling levels of lead contamination in Esperance, the State Government is continuing its clean-up and providing targeted support for affected householders.

    Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan today released the latest results to the Esperance community, marking 12 months since significant lead carbonate contamination originated at the town’s port.

    Ms MacTiernan said that recent improved results included:
    • continued reduction in blood lead levels of children;
    • lead and nickel contamination in rainwater tanks had reduced overall following a major clean-up operation, however, there was clearly recontamination with lead in a concerning number of cases; and
    • dust monitoring at the port in December showed lower nickel levels and the lowest lead levels since March 2006.
    “Importantly, of the children whose initial blood levels were 5mcg/dl or above due to contamination by lead from the port, 34 were retested in February and all are below 5mcg/dl, except for two who have levels of 5mcg/dl,” she said.

    “There are another two children with raised blood levels, however the majority of the lead content is from a source other than the Magellan mine. These children are being treated separately by the Department of Health and their levels are also falling.

    “It is important to underline that free blood tests for lead for children under five years of age are still available to the community.

    “A University of Western Australia review of testing of rainwater tanks showed there has been an 88 per cent drop in nickel readings and a 60 per cent decrease in lead readings in tanks.

    “However, the review also showed that some tanks previously tested and cleaned had lead levels above the drinking water standards. Most of these were in an area relatively close to the port.

    “It suggested possible explanations for this including remobilisation of lead dust residues at the port being blown into the town or from within the town where dust settled originally, or inadequate cleaning of tanks and roofs.”

    The rainwater tank testing took place in October 2007 before the latest port clean up.

    The Minister said the State Government would continue to offer testing of tanks within the areas most affected by lead contamination.

    “Householders with water tanks showing Magellan lead levels above drinking water guidelines can ask for their tanks and roof to be cleaned, or for reverse osmosis devices to be provided and fitted to their scheme water,” she said.

    “Dust monitoring by nine gauges covering Esperance Port and the town during December returned the lowest readings for lead and nickel since a new comprehensive monitoring program was put in place last year.

    “Low levels of lead (≤2mg/m2/month) were detected, and except for one location on the port boundary (7mg/m2/month), nickel was at or below detection (1mg/m2/month).

    “The results are significantly lower than in both October and November and suggest that the port clean up has been effective.

    “The port is also undertaking a major decontamination program and when this is completed a comprehensive retesting of areas around the port will ensure that lead residues have been removed.

    “In the meantime, the Esperance Port Authority and Shire of Esperance will again undertake appropriate cleaning of playground equipment in the most affected areas to ensure children are not put at risk.”

    The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) will begin a monitoring program to measure dust levels in the town during the next 12 months.

    Dust monitoring gauges will be installed inside and outside homes and selected commercial buildings, with results taken each month. Rainwater tanks will also be tested for lead levels on a monthly basis.

    The department will also test trees and other vegetation around the town, with all results being reported to the community and available on DEC’s website.

    DEC has also engaged consultants to carry out an assessment of any ongoing health and ecological risks.

    The consultants are examining all existing data and will soon begin additional monitoring and sampling to identify if further requirements for clean-up and monitoring in and around Esperance are required.

    “While this work has begun, it is a big task and will take about 12 months to complete,” Ms MacTiernan said.

    The Minister said she would provide a further report in two months on blood results, air monitoring, and further rainwater tank testing.

    Minister's office - 9213 6400