Lead in North Lake Macquarie
Lake Macquarie is located ten minutes from Newcastle. Its centrepiece, the Lake, is one of the largest coastal saltwater lakes in Australia. North Lake Macquarie consists of three suburbs. The suburbs are Argenton, Boolaroo and Speers Point. Boolaroo was established in the 1890's as a housing estate for the workers of the local lead smelter which operated between 1897 and 2003. Blood lead levels have been elevated in the area but decreased rapidly after the closure of the smelter and a survey in 2015 found that all children tested had a blood lead level below 5 µg/dL.
Reports of elevated blood lead levels in children living in North Lake Macquarie resulted in the establishment of the Environmental Health Centre in Boolaroo in 1996. The Centre aimed to reduce children's blood lead levels and implement a range of strategies including health promotion, greening, lead abatement and a blood lead testing program.
With the closure of the smelter in September 2003, the average blood lead levels in children decreased as the lead-in-air levels decreased. These results suggest that while the smelter was in operation, the main source of lead for young children in the area was recent, rather than historical, smelter emissions.
However the soil and dust in the local area is still likely to contain lead from the past operations of the smelter. In addition, flaking and deteriorating lead-based paint from within the older homes has increasingly been recognised as a cause of elevated blood lead levels in young children. Therefore, care should still be taken with personal and home hygiene for children and pregnant women to minimise lead exposure.
While the closure of the smelter and the consequent improvement in the blood lead levels for local children resulted in the closure of the North Lake Macquarie Environmental Health Centre at the end of 2006, lead awareness activities have continued for residents in the area including:
- Local doctors being reminded in an annual letter of the need to be vigilant for exposures or behaviours that could place young children at risk of elevated blood lead levels.
- The distribution of hundreds of “Final Whistle” booklets to local residents, libraries and schools in 2010. The booklet contains personal narratives of local people living with lead and the ongoing issues. The Final Whistle booklets are available from Lake Macquarie City Council.
- A DVD promoting lead-safe behaviours addressing both contaminated soils and lead paint removal was distributed in the North Lake Macquarie area in late 2006. Lead Safe Blitz is a step-by-step guide to protecting your family from lead.
- Blood Lead testing was carried out in June and July of 2015 for children between six months and five years of age and pregnant women living in the North Lake Macquarie, to ascertain whether they have elevated blood lead levels. The results of this testing are reassuring, with all blood lead levels below 5 µ/dL and confirm the previous downward trend of blood lead levels in young children. Results also confirm that children’s blood lead levels in the past appear to have been driven by fresh smelter emissions more so than lead contaminated soils