MAC: Mines and Communities

High lead levels found in Belledune soil

Published by MAC on 2007-07-09

High lead levels found in Belledune soil

CBC News,

9th July 2007

A soil study has found high lead levels at several homes in Belledune, just a week after the province said its new study into the high incidence of cancer in the area will not look at lead-poisoning as a possible cause.

The mining company Xstrata Zinc paid to test lead levels in the northern village, because it owns the lead smelter that's been operating in Belledune for more than 40 years.

Scientists took soil samples from 150 homes and found five of them to have lead levels over 1,000 parts per million. Any level over 200 parts per million is considered unsafe for children.

But the government won't look at the role of industrial lead pollution from the nearby smelter in its new study into high disease rates in the area, provincial epidemiologist Chris Balram said last week.

The government has said it won't look at lead in this study, because a previous study, in 2005, found that the types of cancers identified in the area are not the result of elevated lead levels. Instead, the new study will look at factors such as lifestyle, diet and family history, among others.

Dr. Ron Brecher says the five homes identified in the Xstrata study as having high lead levels in their soil all have one thing in common.

"All of those elevated levels were found in front yards, and they were in the location where the snowplow would have piled the snow," Brecher said. "Now what we've heard from the residents is that a number of years ago, snowplows from the smelter used to move that snow around and where the snow got piled and then subsequently melted any of the metals that were present in the snow would end up in the soil right below that."

Xstrata says it doesn't know if there is a health risk, but the company is removing the contaminated soil from the homes this week.

The 2005 Belledune Area Health Study found residents who lived near the town smelter between 1989 and 2001 have significantly higher rates of oral, respiratory and prostate cancers than people anywhere else in New Brunswick.

It also found people living near the smelter over the 12 years studied suffered more deaths from circulatory disease, cancer and suicides than expected.

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