LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News Volume 12 Number 4, June 2012, 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.
Joint Editors: Elizabeth O’Brien and Anne Roberts

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Water lead results near proposed mine site spark Australia-wide tankwater quality warning

By Elizabeth O'Brien, BSc, Grad Dip in Educational Studies (Health Educ’n), Manager, Global Lead Advice & Support Service (GLASS) run by The LEAD Group Inc. Australia

faucetElevated lead and arsenic results in water samples from rainwater tanks, and bores / springs / groundwater near the proposed Bowdens Silver Mine Project at Lue, NSW, have led to a general warning for all Australians drinking tank water, especially from a concrete tank, to test their drinking water for lead. [Lue, in the Central Tablelands, is just south of east of Mudgee, and almost north of Lithgow. The mine will be located less than 3km from Lue.]

Prof Mark Taylor, an environmental scientist from Macquarie University (and a member of The LEAD Group’s Technical Advisory Board), confirmed community concerns about the increased lead exposure likely from the proposed open-cut silver zinc lead mine. (For the full interview on Orange Breakfast radio, broadcast June 25, or a printed summary, see: http://www.abc.net.au/rural/nsw/content/2012/06/s3534616.htm)

Groundwater from springs or bores in mineralised areas, should never be added to drinking water tanks unless first tested for lead, arsenic and other toxic metals known to occur in the local rocks. It is most important to sample the water after a dry period when these metals are likely to become more concentrated.

On 27th June, ABC Orange Breakfast radio news reported lead and arsenic exceeding the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG) in samples of filtered water from tanks or ground or surface water sources in the region of Lue.

On 28th June, Gavin Thomas, Managing Director of Kingsgate Bowdens / Kingsgate Consolidated, was interviewed on ABC’s NSW Country Hour by Leone Knight, who asked how dust would be suppressed in an open-cut mine situation, when the mine plans to produce 177 tonnes of lead over the life of the mine.

Mr Thomas said the lead will be treated and put into a concentrate and the concentrate will possibly be taken to Port Pirie, and dust suppression techniques will be used. He said “We put mats down to minimise dust during blasting, and regularly water the roads… We’ve done extensive testing of surface and groundwater as well as neighbourhood drinking water to collect baseline data. Its been known for well over a decade that there samples which exceed the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines… We believe we can monitor moving forward, and be of modest impact to the community… We’ve found two people in the area have lead in their rainwater tanks that exceed Australian Drinking Water standards.”

I spoke to Simon McDonald, Manager, New Projects, Kingsgate Bowdens, on 28th June. Mr McDonald made the following points:

  • Kingsgate’s May newsletter at http://www.kingsgate.com.au/australia/bowden-newsletters/may-2012.pdf mentions the start of the company’s baseline monitoring.
  • We're using JBS Environmental consultants to review groundwater, rainwater tank water, surface water, and they will review the tank sludge results soon.
  • Surface water collected in April and May 2012 from the mineralised gully near the proposed mine site had a lead result of 0.024 milligrams per litre (mg/L) in April and 0.022 mg/L in May. The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG) sets 0.010 mg/L as the maximum acceptable level of lead in drinking water. All other samples were below the ADWG.
  • Lead was reported in one sample at over the Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council (ANZECC) Australian and New Zealand guidelines for fresh and marine water quality for aquatic ecosystems’ acceptable level of 0.0034 mg/L and it was probably the same gully sample as mentioned above. The pH at this location was lower than for other surface water samples.
  • eat mor chikinOne sample of groundwater had a lead level marginally over ADWG from that same gully, which has been renamed as Bowdens Gift by the previous Canadian owners, Silver Standard. One other sample in the next gully to the East was over 0.0034 - both are used by cattle. The Australian Livestock Guideline sets 0.1 mg/L for lead and 0.5 mg/L for arsenic because cattle can tolerate well above the drinking water or aquatic ecosystem level.
  • When Silver Standard bought the property 10 yrs ago they tested for arsenic and found high levels in some water samples.
  • A person bought a property in the area last year and they were not advised of a potential mining operation in the area.
  • Kingsgate are offering free clean-out of sludge from the first rain water tank which receives water off the roof of any buildings in our test area (within 2 km radius of the proposed mine site). That way we can be sure that if the metal levels rise in these tanks over our monitoring period, we will need to look to the mining activity as a possible source.
  • Where the roof has been painted with a leaded paint or where lead flashing or solder has been used in a collection system, it is possible for some lead ion to enter the collected water.
  • One of the rainwater tanks in the district was found to have a nickel level above the ADWG and the lead was just over the acceptable level. However at retesting, the lead had dropped below the guideline. Stainless steel is a possible source of nickel in tankwater.
  • When Kingsgate sample rainwater tanks, we do not get up on the roof rain water collection area because unless you test the flashing you won't know if it is lead. Zinc flashing looks pretty much the same as lead, once it is weathered, and flashing can be painted, thus concealing whether it’s made of lead, zinc, aluminium or bitumen.
  • One rainwater tank made of PVC was found to contain 0.015 lead, marginally over the ADWG and that water was collected from a galvanised iron roof, and the highest result of 0.037 mg/L lead was found in a concrete tank, but fortunately this tank is not used for drinking water.
  • Roof space dust will be tested as well as house dust metal levels before the mine opens and again during mining operations.
  • What wasn't mentioned on the ABC is that most of the damage done at Broken Hill in the early days and at Port Pirie and Mt Isa was due to smelting, not so much mining.
  • Kingsgate has not determined where we’ll send the galena concentrate for smelting or refining. At Bowdens there is combined 0.7% Pb+Zn (lead plus zinc content in the ore) whereas Broken Hill ore is up to 30% Pb+Zn, but Bowdens has very high silver which is linked to the Pb+Zn. It will be separated on site by flotation, then the concentrate will be sent off-site - possibly to Port Pirie or overseas.

Mr McDonald went on to provide information about significant new uses of silver. In my opinion, these are important enough to make it essential that the community of Lue be protected from possible lead contamination during the mining operations.

Some of the new uses of silver

(Information provided by Mr McDonald from The Silver Institute website in the USA.)

Silver as an Anti-Bacterial

http://www.silverinstitute.org/site/silver-in-technology/silver-in-medicine/bandages/ ]

This is the biggest new use of silver. Wound dressings containing silver have been an important aspect of healthcare for more than a century; soldiers in World War I relied heavily upon such dressings. Today, consumer healthcare companies like Johnson & Johnson and others offer their own lines of bandages and ointments that use silver as an active ingredient. Silver has actually been proven to promote the growth of new cells, thereby increasing the rate at which wounds can heal. And, unlike other metals with antimicrobial properties, it is not toxic to humans.

Silver in Green Technologies

[URL: http://www.silverinstitute.org/site/silver-in-technology/silver-in-green/ ]

…The use of silver in nanotechnology is a growing area of interest. The idea is simple: when silver is added to fabrics, appliances, carpets and air purifiers, it acts as a sterilizer, killing harmful bacteria that otherwise would have had to be treated with harsh chemicals. By reducing our reliance on potentially toxic substances, silver in nanotechnology is a major victory for green technology.

Solar Energy

[URL: http://www.silverinstitute.org/site/silver-in-technology/silver-in-green/solar-energy/ ]

…Silver paste is used in 90 % of all crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, which are the most common type of solar cell… Over 100 million ounces of silver are projected to be used in this application by 2015.

Silver in Water Purification

[URL: http://www.silverinstitute.org/site/silver-in-technology/silver-in-green/water-purification-anti-bacterial/ ]

Another key use for silver is in the millions of water purifiers that are sold each year. Silver prevents bacteria and algae from building up in their filters so that they can do their job to rid drinking water of bacteria, chlorine, trihalomethanes, lead, particulates and odour.

My conclusions:

I’m particularly interested in the use of silver in solar panels because solar energy is so often stored in lead acid batteries, which are practically the only use of lead that today comes close to being safely manufactured, used and recycled in those advanced countries where environmental and occupational regulations are adhered to. If silver is not mined lead-safely, then all its environmental benefits are overwhelmed by loss in property values and the costs of managing increased heavy metal contamination.

Making rainwater from a tank, or bore water, safe for drinking:

  • Test a first flush and then a flushed water sample from the tap (usually the kitchen tap).

  • Introduce regulations which require heavy metal testing of tank water used as drinking water, before a property is sold, and notification of the results to prospective buyers of the property.

  • Revise the Australian Building Code to require that lead flashing, lead paint and any other potential sources of lead in drinking water in the rainwater collection area, be replaced with non-lead flashing, non-lead paint etc, prior to the addition of a rainwater tank to the property.

Testing for lead and other heavy metals in drinking water:

JBS Environmental have donated to The LEAD Group, the concept, interpretation template and instructions for our DIY-sampling lab analysis kits. You can purchase one of these very useful kits from us, and be confident in the analysis which is done at a NATA-accredited lab, and in the interpretation, which I write! Phone 1800 626 086 to order a 2-sample Water Kit today. Have your credit card details ready. Cost is:

  • $100 if you only want to test for lead – discounted to $85 if you join The LEAD Group for $5 annual membership;
  • Add $10 to the base cost per sample per other metal eg $120 for lead and arsenic, or
  • $140 for lead, arsenic and nickel analysis of both samples.

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Last Updated 10 June 2014
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