|LEAD Action News vol 11 Number 2, December
2010, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times (ISSN 1440-4966) & Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Guest Editor, Dr Chrissie Pickin. Editor-in-Chief: Anne Roberts
By Bronwyn Hill, Communications Consultant, in
collaboration with John Powell,
The Rosebery mine is a polymetallic underground mine, in operation since 1936, and with the current potential to extend its life beyond 2020.
The mine employs 275 people and is owned by Minerals and Metals Group (MMG), the Australian arm of China Minmetals Corporation, which took over operations from the debt-ridden Oz Minerals Ltd in June, 2009.
With that, MMG also took on the damaging allegations that Rosebery’s residents and their pets were being poisoned by heavy metals from the mine.
The company has since committed significant resources, both human and financial, to help establish the facts and provide some clarity and certainty.
MMG General Manager, John Lamb, says this is an indication of the company’s ongoing and long-term commitment to Rosebery, consistent with the importance MMG places on the need to apply good science to the monitoring and reporting of results.
“The Rosebery mine has been operating for almost 75 years and we hope to be here for decades to come”, Mr Lamb said.
“Our long-term plan to operate this mine only works if people are happy to come and live in the town and work at our Rosebery site, so responding to the concerns about potential heavy metal contamination was a necessity.
“Over the past eight months, MMG has completed one of the largest community environmental testing programs undertaken in Australia, with in excess of 2,000 samples – over 35,000 analytical results – and more than 420 bio-monitoring tests”, Mr Lamb said.
“The results of those tests backed up other independent investigations, which showed no widespread health risk from heavy metals in Rosebery.
MMG says the mine’s workforce has been supportive of the company’s efforts, and says this was underscored by the overwhelming support for the company’s workforce bio-monitoring program.
“For my liking, they still don’t quite understand what good and continuing consultation, (and constructive scepticism), is all about”, said the AWU National Occupational Health and Safety Co-ordinator, Yossi Berger.
“I’d like to see much more accurate and inclusive consultation with the union, (as a knowledgeable representative of the workers), on occupational health and safety”, Dr Berger said.
The workers themselves are tested on a regular basis, as per the standards in place, e.g. every six months for those staff working in the concentrator and, for all other employees, every 12 months.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has identified a target health lead level of 10μg/dL for the general community, although a higher reference range is allowed in an occupational setting.
“In the program we have conducted, there was no exceedence of occupational or community action or reference ranges for any of the metals, and importantly, no child that we tested had a blood lead level which exceeded 5μg/dL”, Mr Lamb said.
Dr Berger says it’s true that monitoring levels at the moment are surprisingly low, but says in his view, any blood level of lead is a concern, even if within currently suggested exposure standards.
“More than 50 percent of all ‘safe’ exposure levels for significant industrial chemicals have been shown to be wrong over the years, and at times by orders of magnitudes”, Dr Berger said.
“But industry and regulators don’t effectively understand that the lessons of history are also objective facts; note the tragic history of all forms of asbestos, organochlorines, or the more current issues with organophosphates or endosulfan”, he said.
MMG says it will continue to be guided by the NHMRC on this issue, but believes it should strive to always improve the results.
“Therefore, our objective will continue to be to utilise operational, health and hygiene programs, designed to lower lead levels”, Mr Lamb said.
To that end, the company plans to continue to improve operational methods to reduce exposure; e.g. via the installation of dust curtains and washing facilities at the train loading station; an equipment upgrade at the filter plant; and increased air monitoring activities.
The EPA says these improvements should result in less dust leaving the site and the EPA will incorporate the additional air monitoring requirements into the operational conditions for the mine.
There is also an on-site laundry to wash all work clothes, and all workers are engaged in health and hygiene programs to reduce potential exposure.
MMG says the residents of Rosebery can take significant comfort from the work conducted and the conclusions reached by the company and the DHHS, that there is no evidence of harm to human health from the presence of heavy metals in the town.
But the company has vowed to continue to work with the community to see the issue through to the end.
“We will work with the EPA on our air monitoring regime, and will continue to offer blood tests free of charge to any community member”, Mr Lamb said.
“Most importantly, we will work with the DHHS and the West Coast Council, to ensure that residents know what precautions to take living in a mining town, and we will maintain and improve our community and awareness programs on this issue.
“We are very confident in the results of our extensive work and believe that this view is shared by the overwhelming majority of Rosebery residents.
“We are focussed now on working with the community to rebuild its reputation as a wonderful place to live and raise a family”, Mr Lamb said.
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Updated 24 January 2012