MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia: Lead miner continues violating law

Published by MAC on 2009-08-10

MAC special edition on lead

One of Australia's most important law suits has been trundling through the system for more than a year. Test-case plaintiff, 7 year old Stella Hare, is accusing global miner Xstrata plc of poisoning her (and by extension others) through operations at its Mount Isa lead-zinc mine.

In April 2009, Stella's case received a setback. See:

However, a month later, the country's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found Xstrata's average emissions of lead from Mount Isa in 2005 were almost seven times higher than the current national standard. Even two years later, in 2007, they were more than three times the limit.

Under an earlier licence agreement the UK-Swiss company had been allowed to violate the national standard. Last year it was told to meet the limits within the next three years; Xstrata claims it will not only do so, but improve on government requirements.

Meanwhile, young Stella Hare, along with other residents, continues to suffer, while Xstrata is allowed to violate the law.

Xstrata "on track to exceed new government environmental laws"

Northwest Star (Australia)

8 May 2009

A NEWLY-RELEASED report has found Xstrata's lead emissions at some Mount Isa sites were above what the national standard now says is safe.

The Environmental Protection Agency report, released on Wednesday, followed tests in December 2007, which found some local children had high levels of lead in their blood.

The Mount Isa Lead Management Report, commissioned by the state's previous environment minister Andrew McNamara, details air, water and land quality at several sites in the city in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

In Station Street, on the Xstrata mine's doorstep, the average annual lead concentration in 2005 was almost seven times the current national standard of 0.5 total suspended particles (tsp). The actual level was just under 3.5 tsp, the report said.

In 2007, it was more than three times the national standard. The company's agreement with the state was 1.5 tsp.

However, the city's main thoroughfare, Miles Street, recorded safe lead levels well below the national standard during 2005-2007.

The Queensland government said that Xstrata was not currently bound to meet national standards. It said that previously, air quality obligations were outlined in licensed agreements with the State Government.

In Xstrata's case, those obligations were not as tough as the current national standard.

However, new legislation introduced last year gives Xstrata three years to adjust to national standards.

Queensland Environment Minister Kate Jones said current air monitoring showed Xstrata had already begun to "well and truly" meet those standards.

Xstrata Copper North Queensland environment manager Ed Turley said the company was always looking to improve its environmental performance and was on track to exceed government requirements, including new standards to be brought in from May 2011.

"We've been monitoring since 1975, so it's always been high on our agenda," he said.

"The network is the most intensive monitoring system in Australia."

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