A new study has found there is a link between the academic performance of primary school students in mining towns and their exposure to environmental contamination. The study focused on Broken Hill in remote New South Wales where students who performed poorly in the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) were found to either live or attend school in areas with high amounts of lead, arsenic, and cadmium in the soil and air. In contrast, students from districts with comparatively low levels of heavy metals in the environment scored better grades, according to Mark Taylor, a professor of environmental science at Sydney’s Macquarie University. “The difference between children attending schools in areas with the maximum soil lead risks compared to the lower soil lead risk is 20 NAPLAN points, or about 5 per cent,” Professor Taylor said. The authors of the study collected soil samples and reviewed data on air pollution in six different areas of Broken Hill before comparing the information with school performance. Figures from the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) a nationwide survey measuring the physical health and wellbeing of first-year students were also taken into account. Professor Taylor said similar results were found in the mining towns of Mount Isa, Queensland, and Port Pirie, South Australia, using the same method of analysis. “The combination of AEDC [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Australian Early Development Census], NAPLAN and environmental data imply strongly that metal contamination of the urban environment is a likely contributing factor to blood lead exposures and, consequently, educational outcomes, even after accounting for standard social and economic factors,” he said. There is an ongoing debate about lead contamination in Broken Hill, which is home to the world’s richest deposit of lead and zinc ore. More than half of all children in the town under the age of four have blood lead levels in excess of the recommended limit of five micrograms per decilitre. Local resident Esther La Rovere said her 20-month-old son Phoenix was recently found to have blood lead levels almost three times that limit, forcing her to take precautions, including laying turf over the dirt on her property on the edge of town. “Certainly you have to be vigilant washing hands and toys and faces before they eat and quite a few times throughout the day if they’re out in the yard playing,” she said. As is the case in Mount Isa and Port Pirie, there are differing views on the source of the problem in Broken Hill, with environmentalists blaming emissions from the mine, while supporters of the resources industry claim the presence of heavy metals in the soil is natural given the town is built on the largest lead reserve in the country. “I understand I live in a historic mining town and that’s something you have to accept to some extent, but I think these sorts of studies really do highlight that companies need to be vigilant with their environmental practices,” Ms La Rovere said. Exposure to dangerous levels of lead and other chemicals is known to cause harm to brain development in children. The New South Wales Government this year committed an additional $13 million to reducing blood lead levels in Broken Hill children. Professor Taylor’s study has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Pollution. Separate research into the management of environmental lead exposure in Mt Isa suggested local industry and government are not doing enough to mitigate risks. The report from public health researcher Dr Malcolm Forbes suggested the Mount Isa community is unable to make informed decisions about the risks of exposure because of a lack of available data. He said about 5 per cent of children under the age of five in Mount Isa had higher than recommended blood lead levels, and that it was still too many. He said he wanted the authorities to focus on limiting lead pollution at its source. “I think this stems from a longstanding unwillingness by industry to acknowledge that mining is the main cause of elevated lead levels, and the leadership on the issue has been reactive rather than proactive,” he said. “We need to be working on steps to reduce exposure rather than trying to minimise risk at the household level. “It should be reducing the amount of lead in the atmosphere.” Mount Isa Mines said it took the health of the community very seriously and had a number of comprehensive on-site initiatives and air monitoring networks to prevent contaminants from leaving the site.
ABC News, 6 October 2015 ;http://www.abc.net.au/news/ ;[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]