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MEDIA RELEASE   14th March 2007

Esperance residents fear high lead levels in their air and drinking water

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The National Toxics Network (NTN)

The National Toxics Network (NTN) is today calling on the Western Australian Department of Health (DOH) to take immediate action to address the health concerns of Esperance residents who fear they are also being exposed to the same toxic lead levels that recently killed thousands of birds in the same area.

“Despite the proverbial ‘canaries in the coalmine’ dropping from the Esperance sky in their thousands, the DOH has taken the extraordinary position that they ‘had seen no evidence to suggest the general population had been exposed to a health risk’“ said NTN Western Australian spokesperson, Mr Lee Bell.

“The DOH has failed to take the necessary public health measures to determine the extent of possible health impacts on the Esperance population from lead exposures. It’s irresponsible to suggest there are no health effects if they haven’t even begun to look for them,” Mr Bell said.

“The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) distributed a letter to Esperance residents confirming the cause of thousands of bird deaths was lead poisoning. They also said air monitors had detected lead in the air (no location specified) and testing of rainwater tanks had revealed elevated lead and nickel levels” Mr Bell stated. 

“It’s very likely some residents are in fact inhaling and drinking lead and nickel above background levels. Exposure to these toxic chemicals is extremely detrimental, especially to babies and children,” said NTN lead expert, Ms Elizabeth O'Brien.

“People with rainwater tanks near the drop down zone for dust from the Port Authority should be offered free testing of their drinking water. DOH should have an on-the-ground team providing technical information to local GP’s on how to interpret and advise appropriate follow-up for blood lead and nickel tests. Esperance residents should be offered free tests to check their levels and supportive medical advice if the tests reveal elevated lead or nickel levels” Ms O’Brien said.

“DEC officers have also confirmed that new hi-volume air samplers have just been installed at the Port as the old monitors did not provide sufficiently accurate data on airborne lead in the area” Mr Bell said.

“It’s staggering with all we know about the serious health impacts of lead exposure that export operations have been licensed to operate without adequate monitoring and safeguards in place. The health of the people of Esperance must come first,” Mr Bell concluded.

For further comment: Mr Lee Bell (WA): 0417 1966 04
Ms Elizabeth O’Brien (NSW): 02 97160132 ###

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