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MEDIA RELEASE Friday, 7th June 2002

Australia’s big export – lead poison

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Australia’s Federal and State Governments and lead producers should be held accountable for the export of poisonous lead and the high rates of contamination in humans and environments in third world countries, according to the country’s leading campaigner on the issue. We exported 672,000 tonnes of lead worth A$637m in FY 2000 - 2001.

Elizabeth O'Brien said the 4th international lead poisoning prevention conference in Washington DC - "Global Dimensions of Lead" - run by the National Safety Council of the USA, heard that the rate of lead poisoning in India, where many lead batteries have been exported for recycling, was massive.

A survey found that half of the 32,000 Indian people so far blood tested had been found to be lead poisoned, and 90 per cent of the children involved in recycling lead acid batteries were also found to be poisoned.

The survey was conducted with funding by Indian businessman Dr Abraham George (a US citizen philanthropist) by Prof Thuppil Venkatesh, head of Dr George's new lead centre in Bangalore, India.

Ms O’Brien, the head of The LEAD Group, said one third of Australian-produced lead acid batteries escaped the country’s poor collection and recycling systems until recently and end up in developing countries – often being recycled by children in backyards.

She said the conference also heard from a Russian researcher Dr Anna Orlova, who called on W.H.O. to coordinate the collection of all lead poisoning data in the world to get a handle on the size of the problem.

The conference heard that perhaps many more than a billion people across the globe may be lead poisoned and confirmed that lead remains the number one environmental health problem for US children.

It is estimated that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year in the US, where state and local governments are working on removing or managing the estimated 3.3 million tonnes of lead that currently sits in the paint on US houses.

In Australia, however, only A$15,000 has been assigned annually by Environment Australia of expenditure on all non-mining and smelting lead education in Australia and this Lead Advisory Service Australia funding is due to cease at the end of June 2002. Nothing has been received from consumer or health agencies.

"I call on the state and federal governments of Australia, and our major lead industries or philanthropists, to fund the global community education services run by The LEAD Group from Australia," Ms O’Brien said.

"It is essential to coordinate the efforts of communities to overcome and manage this menace," she said.

Ms O’Brien is the National Coordinator of The LEAD Group and Manager of the Global Lead Advice and Support Service (GLASS) and Lead Advisory Service Australia. She returned from the conference yesterday.

CONTACT:
Elizabeth O'Brien ph (02) 9716 0014 or +61 2 9716 0014 ###

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