Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young releases 2016 blood lead level data of Mount Isa infants

An overview of Mount Isa Mines and its close proximity to the city. Photo:MIM.
An overview of Mount Isa Mines and its close proximity to the city. Photo:MIM.

LEAD levels in Mount Isa children under five years continue to decline judging by the release of preliminary data that was collected last year.

The discrepancy of higher blood lead level averages of Indigenous children compared to other children also lessens. 

Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young released figures of last year’s preliminary results she only received on Thursday morning.

“There’s been a definite improvement due to a range of things, due to the mine and what they’ve done and the amount of lead going into the air, a gradual and sustained reduction to that,” Dr Young said. 

The average result for tested children under five in 2016 was 2.4 micrograms of lead per decilitre. The average result for Indigenous children was 2.9 micrograms. 

NEW DATA: Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young comments on the Lead Pathway Study into Air report. Photo: Department of Health.

NEW DATA: Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young comments on the Lead Pathway Study into Air report. Photo: Department of Health.

But there were five children tested that had blood lead levels higher than 10 micrograms per decilitre.

Three per cent of tested children reached 10 micrograms or above. It’s a value that was considered a “level of concern” until the National Health and Medical Research Council halved it to five in January, 2016. 

There had been another 25 children that had above 5 micrograms per decilitre. 

In 2006 there were 45 children with a blood lead level greater than 10 micrograms per decilitre – which was 11 per cent of tested children. 

The average level of the tested children under 5 years in 2006 was 5 micrograms per decilitre. The average level for Indigenous children was 7 micrograms. 

Dr Young released these figures when making comment about the Mount Isa Mines’ commissioned Lead Pathways study into air which was released to the public last week. But the study’s figures were outdated and may not align with current conditions, she said. 

Mount Isa residents were safe from lead exposure as long as they followed the recommendations made in the report, which advised residents to wash locally grown produce, have blood levels monitored and keep hygiene practices of washing and wiping hands and surfaces, Dr Young said. 

”I do continue to stress that families with children under five get tested on a yearly basis, unless they are quite comfortable and have had a few negative tests and things haven’t changed,” Dr Young said. 

Environmental expert Dr Mark Taylor criticised the recommendations as being “an unfair burden of responsibility on residents”. 

Dr Young said the recommendations were necessary and had been supported for many years. 

“If they follow those recommendations then Mount Isa is a safe place to live. There’s no other way to do this,” she said. 

“I have seen Professor Taylor’s response to those recommendations and I think it’s educating the community, giving them information to act on and the community has asked for that information – of course they have.”