LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News Volume 13 Number 4, June 2013, 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.
Editorial Team: Elizabeth O’Brien, Zac Gethin-Damon, Hitesh Lohani, Shristi Lohani and David Ratcliffe

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Mt Isa Lead Research Media Backlash

New Research Article Slammed in Local Media for Linking Mt Isa Mine and Smelter Emissions with Lead Exposure

Summary of related research and media articles by Lan Nguyen, Masters of Business in Human Resources Management, University of Technology, Sydney, and Intern, The LEAD Group Inc

A survey in 2008 found 11 per cent of children in Mt Isa had elevated blood lead levels. For a long time mining company Glencore Xstrata and the state government have argued the high levels of lead contamination in the environment were largely a natural occurrence. However, a recent study published in Environmental Pollution provides strong links between the combined effects of historic and contemporary lead-emitting site operations in this mining and smelting Queensland town.

The scientific report, primarily completed by Professor Mark Taylor, looked at samples of soil, dust and air from inside and outside homes and public places in Mount Isa between 2005 and 2008. As summarised by Macquarie University Newsroom, this new and compelling study challenges Xstrata’s claims about naturally occurring lead on the following grounds:

  • Considering samples of property dust wipes, aerosol particulates and surface soils, there is little difference between lead levels within the city area and that of Mount Isa lead orebody. It is further noted that public spaces such as parks and property verges experience significantly higher lead levels compared to residential lots.
  • Isotopic signatures in sub-surface soils and rocks from the urban area are completely distinguishable from the Mount Isa lead orebody’s isotopic signatures. It can therefore be concluded that contamination has resulted from atmospheric deposition of contaminants.
  • Moreover “the surface expression of the main ore body on the lease is no longer present because it has been mined-out and the existing surface is contaminated from ore and concentrate stockpiles and smelting activity”: no substantial lead was found to be coming from natural surface exposures of minerals in the urban area.

These findings are considered as relevant to other mining areas in Australia and elsewhere all over the world where there is a serious risk of harm and cause of contamination due to lead mining and smelting operations. As the significant risk still remains within the urban atmosphere, Professor Taylor further stresses that there is a need for immediate action and better control.

In response to this study, while Mount Isa Mayor Tony McGrady said every resident in this mining area recognised and acknowledged the issue of both natural and “industrial mineralization” [a term with an unstated meaning*], the global mining giant Xstrata revealed that it was doing its own research into air quality and human health risk assessment and attempting to improve its environmental performance.

Commenting on the “negative” Environmental Pollution report, Councillor McGrady was quoted in the local newspaper as saying: "I take it as an offence personally as I have raised two children in this city and they're as smart as anybody else in this state so I don't see any adverse impacts of living with lead in the city as long as people take care with hygiene."

[*Editor’s note: Wikipedia defines Mineralization (geology), as “the hydrothermal deposition of economically important metals in the formation of ore bodies or lodes… Mineralization may also refer to the product resulting from the process of mineralization. For example, mineralization (the process) may introduce metals (such as iron) into a rock. That rock may then be referred to as possessing iron mineralization.” That doesn’t sound like a process that could be anything but natural. Wikipedia also defines Industrial minerals as “geological materials which are mined for their commercial value, which are not fuel (fuel minerals or mineral fuels) and are not sources of metals (metallic minerals). They are used in their natural state or after beneficiation either as raw materials or as additives in a wide range of applications… Typical examples of industrial rocks and minerals are limestone, clays, sand, gravel, diatomite, Kaolin, Bentonite, Silica, Barite, Gypsum, and Talc.” But surely the Mayor and Xstrata who also use the term “industrial mineralization”, are not referring to these industrial minerals.]


Mackay A.K., Taylor M.P., Munksgaard N.C., Hudson-Edwards K.A. & Burn-Nunes L. (2013) Identification of environmental lead sources and pathways in a mining and smelting town: Mount Isa, Australia in Environmental Pollution, available for purchase at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269749113002455, and submitted to a Committee of the Australian federal Senate at https://senate.aph.gov.au/submissions/comittees/viewdocument.aspx?id=9129f070-0065-4763-8777-08934457438b

Macquarie University Newsroom (2013) Compelling new evidence shows Mount Isa mine emissions are contaminating the city and are the cause of childhood lead poisoning, June 17, 2013 http://www.mq.edu.au/newsroom/2013/06/17/compelling-new-evidence-shows-mount-isa-mine-emissions-are-contaminating-the-city-and-are-the-cause-of-childhood-lead-poisoning/

ABC News (2013) Environmental study links mine with Mt Isa lead poisoning, June 17, 2013 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-17/environmental-study-links-mine-with-mt-isa-lead-poisoning/4759790?section=business

Donna Field (2013) Xstrata mining emissions causing lead poisoning in Mount Isa children: report, ABC News, June 17, 2013 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-17/mining-emissions-in-mount-isa-cause-lead-poisoning-in-children/4757502

4BC Mornings (2013) Lead contamination confirmed, June 17, 2013 http://www.4bc.com.au/blogs/2013-4bc-mornings-audio-blog/lead-contamination-confirmed/20130617-2od2j.html#.Ub7uOOD2Ab4

SBS Podcasts (2013) Report blames mining for Mt Isa lead poisoning, June 17, 2013 http://www.sbs.com.au/podcasts/Podcasts/radionews/episode/272743/Report-blames-mining-for-Mt-Isa-lead-poisoning

The ABC’s Radio National (2013) Environmental study links mining to high lead levels in Mt Isa, June 17, 2013 http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/drive/environmental-study-links-mining-to-high-lead-levels-in-mt-isa/4760888

Glencore Xstrata (2012) Independent study into health of Mount Isa waterways released, September 27, 2012 www.glencorexstrata.com/media-centre/news/xstrata-news-archive/2012/new-article-page-6/

Sagittarius Mines, Inc (2013) Mount Isa waterways study released in Sustainability Information Bulletin No. 17, January 2013 http://www.smi.com.ph/EN/OurPerformance/Documents/XCu-SUS-BUL-Sustainability_Bulletin%20No.17%20January%202013-20130131.pdf

The North West Star (2013) Lead report slammed, June 17, 2013 www.northweststar.com.au/story/1578808/lead-report-slammed/?cs=191

McKenna M. (2013) Mining operations 'to blame for lead contamination', The Australian National Affairs, June 18, 2013 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/mining-operations-to-blame-for-lead-contamination/story-e6frgczx-1226665289200

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