LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 8 no 3, 2001, 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.

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Worst Case Lead Poisoning and
Tasmanian Government Inaction (continued)

By Elizabeth O'Brien, Manager, Lead Advisory Service Australia
Edited by Paul Spencer, activist and roving volunteer

Environmental Assessment?

In March 1999, a Medical Officer from the Tasmanian Dept of Health and Human Services attended the Gormanston property to collect the first soil, earth, gravel and vacuum cleaner dust samples for lead analysis.

The bare soil results ranged from 440 to 840 parts per million (ppm). The pile of earth at the rear of the house outside the fence had 70 ppm. The gravel at the side of the road in front of the house adjacent to an abandoned car had 43 ppm lead and the vacuum cleaner dust had 610 ppm lead. A soil lead level of 300 ppm is set as the level for further investigation. A water sample collected from tap was reported as containing 0.005 milligrams per litre [mg/L] of lead (Drinking Water limits are 0.01 mg/L).

On 13th April 1999, the Medical Officer faxed the above soil and dust results to Denise Oates and advised her that he would "be visiting on Tuesday 18 April to do some more sampling because Adrian's blood leads have not been falling enough."

The Medical Officer wrote to the Oates family’s paediatrician to report the analysis results for samples collected on 17 March 1999, and commented "The results in the immediate backyard area are higher than "normal" background soil readings but not high enough on their own to account for a blood lead of 30-40 g/dL. Mrs Oates will also be getting a copy of these results and some general information on measures to control lead exposure."

At around this time, according to Denise Oates, the paediatrician said that the house was too lead contaminated for a baby [Tyler was two years old]. The Medical Officer visited for the second time "to further examine possible lead sources and control measures"

In June 1999, the study called Lead Levels in Children: A Survey of Blood Lead Concentrations in Children Living in West Coast Tasmanian Communities, prepared by the Menzies Centre for Population Health Research was published and apparently a copy was provided to Public Health but not to West Coast Council.

According to Denise Oates, soil was replaced in the yard of the Oates' home in the Spring of 1999. Nigel Oates (Denise's husband and the children's father) borrowed equipment to excavate the contaminated soil himself. Denise had to drive 200 kms to Burnie to buy some grass seed to put in the new soil.

In May 2000, the Medical Officer obtained the following analysis results from the second lot of samples from the Oates’ house and yard:-

  • New soil laid in 1999, rear area, inside fence - 91 ppm.

  • Soil, rear area, outside fence 409 ppm ("soil investigation level of 300")

  • Vacuum cleaner dust - 626 ("this does not have any level set")

  • Paint, cream, underside eaves of roof - 3,210 ppm and green corrugated iron fence - 3,170 ppm ("Paint lead levels for use on domestic housing have been decreasing, from 10,000 to 2,500 in 1993, to 1,000 ppm in 1998").

On the 14th May 2000, an article called "Coast kids in health scare" by Libby Lester in the Sunday Tasmanian section of the Mercury newspaper revealed that "The latest [Menzies Centre] study was due to be released earlier this year but was withdrawn when a class action against lead miner Pasminco was launched interstate. It is understood the Menzies Centre was concerned the timing of the release could lead to its independence being questioned."

On the 23rd of February 2000, Class Action papers were issued to Pasminco by solicitors Coleman and Greig in Sydney.

Libby Lester also wrote "according to Cr Gerrity, the practice of using mine tailings of crushed metal for roads and footpaths in mining towns may have led to contamination…"

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