LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News Vol 1 no 2 Winter 1993   ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Broken Hill community's response to lead contamination and reduction of mining operations

by Tara McGee

Lead is a major health issue worldwide. Recent national and international attention focuses on the effects of lead, such as children's IQ. Public health workers in several communities across Australia are conducting blood lead testing programs and are recommending behavioural guidelines to reduce exposure to lead.

One community faced with lead "contamination" is Broken Hill, New South Wales. The effects of high lead levels of mine workers has been a health concern since the early days of mining which began in the 1880s. The potential effects of low-level lead contamination became "newsworthy" in early 1991, after results of water tank and ceiling dust surveys were made public. In January 1992, blood lead level test results reported that 20.3% of Broken Hill children tested had blood lead levels higher than 25 µg/dL.

There is an extensive and growing body of' literature on the health effects of lead contamination. However, research which only considers the effects of lead on the human body will not adequately address the lead contamination issue, since they do not take into account the political, economic, social, cultural, environmental and behavioural effects of lead contamination which all affect health.

The Study

I am conducting research on the Broken Hill community's response to lead contamination. However, the impacts of lead contamination are not isolated from other changes in the community. The community's response to the current decline in mining operations and employment is also incorporated into the study.

This research is based on a comprehensive community study, intended to identify and interpret the nature of the community and its responses to the combined threats of lead contamination and the reduction in mining operations, seen from the community's perspective.

In order to understand the complex nature of the research problem, a holistic approach which looks at the community as a whole system must be used. The system is made up of the social environment which incl­udes psychological, social, econ­omic, political and cultural influences, and the biophysical envir­onments (Ottawa Charter, 1986).

The three-year length of this study (1992-1995) and its in depth nature permits examination of the impacts and the community's responses over a relatively long period. The study will document and evaluate the del­ivery of health and community services associated with the impacts of lead contamination, such as "behavioural guidelines", and the mine closure.

The research process used is designed to enhance the community's efforts to respond constructively to the lead contamination and mine closure.

In the first two visits to the community, I have focused on learning about the nature of the community, and the historic and current lead problems in Broken Hill. I have also spoken to residents about the effects of the recent closure of the north mine.

While the study focuses on the Broken Hill community, the research results should be of interest to other communities dealing with lead contamination.

For further information about this research, please contact Tara McGee at:

The Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies
The Australian National University
Canberra ACT 2600
Phone: (02) 6249-5018 fax: (02) 6249-0757

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