Wednesday, May 16, 2007

DEC Inspectors missed the Esperance lead shed - Inquiry

May 2, 2007 - Dozens of Esperance residents have recorded high lead levels and thousands of birds have died from lead poisoning around the southern port town since December last year. High readings of lead and nickel have also been found in rainwater tanks around Esperance.

A parliamentary inquiry currently investigating the matter has heard illegal lead shipments out of Esperance, which poisoned local residents and left hundreds of water tanks contaminated, were not detected by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC). The committee heard how an environmental inspector did not go into the loading area, but watched from a distance because he was concerned about his own health...
DEC's Kim Taylor said that during an initial inspection of the port in May 2005, just before the first lead shipment, the inspector did not enter the lead storage shed because his clothes did not meet OHS standards.

On an inspection in February 2007, an auditor again failed to identify lead was being shipped as powder and not as pellets — in spite of the export licence.

The committee was told of widespread contamination of town water tanks, soils and marine sediment surrounding the port, which had left 28 people with lead levels above the international recommended safe guidelines of 10 micrograms per decilitre.

Liberal MP Kim Hames, who is heading the inquiry, says if the committee can do a full inspection of the site in two hours today, a DEC inspector should have been able to do the same. Mr Hames expressed disbelief that no alarm was raised by the department about dust at the port. "We have had submissions from members of the public to say that when the lead is loaded, a cloud of dust can be seen above the ship," Dr Hames said.

The Department of Health revealed one in four children tested in the coastal town recorded lead levels high enough to warrant an inspection of their homes by health officials in an attempt to reduce any further lead exposure.

Of 239 children tested who fell into the high risk group of five years or younger, 56 recorded levels above 5mcg/dl and six tested above 10mcg.

Kim Taylor said DEC relied heavily on the Esperance Port and lead mining company Magellan Metals to inform it of any changes to the conditions governing the port’s lead export licence. He said the department, which is involved in the regulation of more than 2500 premises, could not meet its monitoring requirements.

DEC director-general Keiran McNamara, whose department is collecting evidence as part of a legal case against the port, said the responsibility ultimately lay with the port and mining company. Mr McNamara said DEC had also commissioned an independent review of its auditing and inspection processes.

The inquiry will also investigate how the lead was transported 900km from Wiluna to Esperance in dusty granules instead of heavier pellets, which produce fewer airborne contaminants. According to The Australian newspaper, government records show "Magellan was in breach of environmental and mine safety conditions as early as September 2004". Magellan Metals transported and exported lead carbonate through Esperance Port in powdered form rather than pellets.

The inquiry is due to report back to the Legislative Assembly by August 16.


Terms of Reference:
(1) That the Education and Health Standing Committee be requested to inquire into and report by 16 August 2007, on the cause and extent of lead pollution in the Esperance area, with specific reference to the following matters -
(a) how the environmental approval process for the transport and export of pelletised lead enabled the transport and export of granulated lead;
(b) the effectiveness of dust monitoring and reporting in relation to lead levels in the area and the adequacy of the response to those reported levels;
(c) the extent to which handling and other practices at Esperance Port gave rise to the benthic lead levels in the harbour;
(d) whether the Esperance Port Authority properly exercised its responsibilities in relation to the potential lead pollution;
(e) whether the Department of Environment and Conservation’s responsibilities in relation to the Esperance Port Authority processes , practices and procedures, including the legal and regulatory framework, were adequate and properly exercised; and
(f) that the Committee is given power to investigate any other issues pertinent to the cause and extent of lead pollution in the Esperance area.

The West
News Ltd
ABC News
DEC - Esperance Lead
Inquiry into the Cause and Effect of Lead Pollution in the Esperance Area
The Australian
The Australian
1000s of birds die around Esperance - Toxicity? - Perth Indymedia
Government alerts Esperance residents - tests reveal higher than recommended Lead levels

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