LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 11 Number 3, June 2011, 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.
Editor: Anne Roberts

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Sydneysider's mountain change hits 'rock' bottom in Rosebery

Interview with Kay Seltitzas by Isla MacGregor, 9th February 2011

Kay Seltitzas
Kay Seltitzas delivering documents
to Dr Roscoe Taylor

In January 1995 I had just finished setting up the first Aboriginal Skillshare Centre in Claymore in the western suburbs of Sydney and decided it was time to fulfil my dream of moving to 'clean and green' Tasmania. I saw a private property advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald for a fully-serviced four bedroom home in Rosebery for $18,000. I thought the price was astonishing, and asked the owners to send me some photos. I had been sent brochures and pamphlets of all the services available in Rosebery, including the hospital, so I jumped at the opportunity and bought the property.

In May I packed my bags and arrived on a bus in Rosebery. I absolutely loved it - it was cold - there was snow on Mount Black and Mount Murchison.

When I walked in the door of the house for the first time I was extremely happy to be standing in my very own beautiful home.

A couple of months later my friend Lindsay brought my 3 dogs down for me, found some work and decided to stay on.

After about 18 months, my three dogs became ill; all of them were partially paralysed. Many dogs had been poisoned in town and the belief was that there was a serial poisoner around. After a few weeks they improved but after 5 years I decided to sell this house and move to a quieter section of the town.

In 2000 I bought my current house at 14 Murchison Street.   It was a bit smaller, more private and had a bigger yard for the dogs. Up to this time our health had been good.

In January 2006 Lindsay was living and working as a fisherman in Strahan. He telephoned me after work, and received no answer. He drove from Strahan and found me incoherent, confused and having difficulty breathing. A few hours later he called for an ambulance. When they arrived I had no blood pressure and they could not stabilise me and they took me to Rosebery Hospital and they couldn't help so they sent me to Burnie.

It took them another day to stabilise me and put me on a ventilator. Four days later the Burnie Hospital arranged a midnight care flight fully staffed with medical personnel because they did not think I'd survive an ambulance journey through to Launceston General Hospital. I was put in intensive care and they tried to discover the cause of my sudden condition. They determined that it was neither viral nor bacterial in nature, and took blood and biopsy samples and sent them to mainland and overseas laboratories for testing. I was in hospital for about six weeks and in this time I was given various medications and antibiotics to no avail.

I had lost an enormous amount of weight and had gone down to 48 kilos. When I woke for the first time after being unconscious for a month, I felt OK for a few hours, and then started hallucinating. They gave me an MRI and discovered that I had suffered brain damage from this illness but that in time I would recover. A week after I returned home from hospital my dog Bandit died. In November 2005 she had become ill and was diagnosed with copper poisoning. I was very distressed by all these events. To this day it is not known exactly what happened to me.

From this time on I started to lose my appetite and had difficulty sleeping and problems with depression. In early 2007, my other dog, Vasco, died - followed by her niece Ninja a few months later. By late 2007 my weight had gone back up to 68 kilos but I started to lose weight, and was unable to eat at all. When my weight reached about 55 kilos my doctor tried to discover the cause. He took blood tests and he discovered that I was chronically anemic and prescribed very strong prescription iron. This did not help at all and my health got worse. I was sent for an ultrasound and nothing was found. About this time my hair started to fall out, I started sweating constantly through the feet and hands.

During 2008 my doctor continued to try and discover what was causing my symptoms as I was by now chronically unwell.

In September, my neighbour Marsha Stejskal came to visit and told me that her cat had drunk seepage water outside her front door, and had become violently ill. She then took soil and water samples and sent them to Analytical Services Tasmania. When her results came back she came over to show them to me, we were horrified to discover how high the levels of arsenic and lead were in the soil and seepage water.

I took samples in the bottles provided by AST of soil and surface water. The results that came back within a week were much higher than those from Marsha's.

What happened from then on has been the subject of intense controversy in Tasmania. Tasmanian media were initially very interested in covering the story about all the people who eventually came forward about their health problems. The ABC Stateline program did two very good stories on the Rosebery problems.  

[http://www.abc.net.au/stateline/tas/content/2006/s2394553.htm  and
http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2010/02/05/2811954.htm
]

In late 2008 the EPA did testing on several properties and found very high levels of metals, including arsenic, cadmium, lead, copper, nickel and other metals. In September I was diagnosed with cadmium and copper poisoning by a doctor in Burnie and again in November through the DHHS investigation. In November I went to Launceston at the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) request, and at the end of the week being away from Rosebery they conducted blood and urine tests which showed a drop of both levels of metals, but not below the guidelines. After a week at home in Rosebery I drove to Burnie and my doctor did more heavy metal tests, and the levels had gone back up again. I immediately sent copies of these results to Dr Roscoe Taylor. [Director of Public Health.] In July 2009 I went to see Occupational and Muscular-skeletal specialist, Dr Andreas Ernst, and after lengthy consultations and review of my medical notes he diagnosed me with heavy metal poisoning.

For the five of us who were involved in the DHHS/EPA investigation, we are all appalled at the lack of professional conduct by government officials, and the cover-up that ensued. The West Coast Council has failed to take responsibility for their role in not protecting their ratepayers’ health.

 Along with some other Rosebery residents I decided to work with a number of concerned people in Tasmania on issues around heavy metal contamination and poisoning, to set up a new community based group called the Toxic Heavy Metals Taskforce Tasmania (THMTT). I am now the Spokesperson for this group and was very pleased that The LEAD Group Inc published a LEAD Action News (http://www.lead.org.au/lanv10n4/LEAD_Action_News_vol_10_no_4.pdf ) totally dedicated to representing our side of the story. THMTT is affiliated with the Tasmanian Public and Environmental Health Network (TPEHN) and we now have all of our reports and documents publicly available on the Sourcewatch Pollution Information website (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Pollution_Information_Tasmania ).

I now live in Primrose Sands [ENE of Hobart, in SE Tasmania] as I had to abandon my property because of the contamination and associated health risks. The two dogs I brought with me from Rosebery have both got cancer, and although their health has improved they still get ill from time to time. My health improved gradually; however, my bones are rotting, and I am chronically deficient in Vitamin D even though I take prescription Vitamin D.

Myself and several other people are now clients of Slater and Gordon, and we are awaiting commencement of legal action on our matters. I have now listed my property on the PIT website as a Contaminated Site. [Pollution Information Tasmania (PIT) was formed in July 2009. See the Sourcewatch website: http://www.sourcewatch.org ]

Premier Lara Giddings, when Tasmanian Health Minister in 2009 refused to instigate a population based public and environmental health survey for Rosebery. From information I receive from residents still living in Rosebery, I strongly believe that it is vital for this health survey to be conducted as a matter of urgency.

At this time, any people from the mainland or overseas who might be considering coming to buy or rent a home in Rosebery have no way of finding out about the potential health risks of living in a town that is in the middle of a mine operation, and on a mine lease.

If, while I was still living in Sydney, when I first looked into buying my home in Rosebery and had I discovered in the conveyancing process that the town was contaminated, then I would never have uprooted myself to pursue my dreams of a 'clean and green' Tasmania. I now know more about the precautions that a person has to take when living in a mining town; unfortunately it is not always quite so simple. Until our Taskforce produced the first pamphlet on health risks and distributed it ourselves in Rosebery, there was no publicly available information in the town about how to reduce your risks from exposure to heavy metals especially arsenic.

Sadly, even last week I heard from a friend that there are no pamphlets available at the hospital nor the neighbourhood house, and only the MMG Shop front in the main street now distributes a pamphlet about Lead only. Arsenic, cadmium, copper, nickel, manganese have been swept under the carpet.

I would hate to see anyone else go through what happened to me, my friends, their children and their pets. We were vilified, bullied and threatened by a small number of people in the town for speaking out about the issues. It is a huge relief to be living away from Rosebery and I hope that my friends still living there will find new homes in safe environments sooner than later.

In the future, once the Slater and Gordon legal case is finalised, I hope that some of the Rosebery residents will come to understand that the issues that we raised initially back in 2008 and since were absolutely necessary. Many people have been very angry at the purported threat to property prices falling in Rosebery, and this has become their focus and not the health of the community. Property prices were never generally high in Rosebery, and even though there had been two property boom periods , one as a result of a Today Tonight program in 2000 which promoted cheap housing in Rosebery as low as $1,000-$7,000. Recent house sales have attained prices between $35,000 and $187,000. I would much rather that people were concerned about children's and communities’ health rather than property prices.

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