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QUESTION: In Kalbarri WA, can lead tailings be distributed by wind and at what distance can they travel? 20/09/10  Western Australia, Australia

I've just moved to Kalbarri WA and want to investigate the potential of lead contamination of the Murchison River from old lead mines in the district. The river floods and the lead mine is upstream, mining had occurred in the riverbed itself. My concern is that sediment and sand has been dredged from the mouth of the river and distributed along the river foreshore. I want to make sure there aren't high levels of lead in the sand. Do you know if any studies have been undertaken? Can I get the sand and water tested? Also can lead tailings be distributed by wind and at what distance can they travel? Kalbarri is a very windy place. Can you please help me in my investigations.

Kind Regards

Rebecca Millar.

ANSWER: Sep 22 2010

Dear Rebecca,

you raise some very interesting questions. Yes, lead tailings can certainly be distributed by wind - the distance is greater the finer the particle size. Dry-sanded paint dust has been found by the CSIRO up to 6 city blocks away from it's origin.

I'm not aware of any studies being done in the Kalbarri area but you should definitely put that question to both the Nature Protection Branch, Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) Western Australia (phone +61-8-6467 5000) and the Public Health Information Service Western Australia of WA Health Department (phone WA callers only 1300 135 030, c/ Health Department +61-8-9222 4222) because I know some studies have been done regarding mining areas in Western Australia. If you do obtain any studies, I would appreciate you emailing us a copy for our library.

You should be interested to read "A guideline for managing the impacts of dust and associated contaminants from land development sites, contaminated sites remediation and other related activities Department of Environment and Conservation WA March 2011" and compare its recommendations to what you see is happening at Kalbarri. Enquire of your local council and of any currently operating mining companies in the area as to what they are doing to protect residents from heavy metal contaminated dust.

Yes you can get sand and water tested at a lab and the Chemistry Centre (phone general 08 9222 3177, WA only 1800 666 322) lab in East Perth is your closest lab. However, labs don't generally provide an interpretation of the results so you may prefer to buy one of our test kits which does include the lab testing (in Sydney) and the interpretation. See DIY - sampling / lab analysis lead kit and you can use your credit card to order online or by phone, or pay by EFT and send me the EFT receipt. [Just ask for our EFT details if you choose the latter approach.]

Dust wipes are the best type of sample to collect and send to a lab because there is a standard that you can compare your results to. There are also standards for recreational waters and for drinking water so if you have a rainwater tank, then it's definitely worth testing two samples from your tap (most easily done using our water test kit). There is no specific standard covering lead in sand so you would have to compare the result to the soil standard. When considering what to test, the most important question is: what is the pathway of exposure for this source of lead? Who is at risk of exposure from this source of lead? The best lead sources to test are those that children are exposed to (like dust that is on child-accessible surfaces or pet-accessible media like soil) or that everyone is exposed to (like drinking water).

The very best test you can possibly do to determine the magnitude of the issue (and therefore whether ANY further testing is justified) is a blood lead test. Even if you've only been there for a couple of weeks, it is worth doing a blood lead test, especially on young children or anyone who bites their nails or sucks their thumb. If everyone has a blood lead level below 2 micrograms per decilitre, you can rest easy.

I hope this helps

All the best

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

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