Licenced to pollute but not to poison: The ineffectiveness of regulatory authorities at protecting public health from atmospheric arsenic, lead and other contaminants resulting from mining and smelting operations

Mark Patrick Taylor*, Peter J. Davies, Louise Jane Kristensen, Janae Lynn Csavina

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This article details and examines the impact of significant inconsistencies in pollution licencing, monitoring and reporting from Australia's leading mining and smelting communities of Mount Isa in Queensland and Port Pirie in South Australia. Although emissions to the environment are regulated according to Australia's national air quality standards, significant atmospheric point source toxic emissions of arsenic, lead and sulfur dioxide continue to contaminate Mount Isa and Port Pirie communities.Short-term atmospheric contaminant emissions across residential areas from the Mount Isa Mines operations are significant: in 2011, 24-h maximum suspended particulate (TSP) values for lead-in-air and arsenic-in-air were 12.8μg/m3 and 2973ng/m3, respectively. The relevant Queensland air quality objectives for lead and arsenic are 0.5μg/m3 (TSP) and 6ng/m3 (PM10), respectively, averaged over a year. Mount Isa is also blanketed by elevated sulfur dioxide concentrations, with the Australian and Queensland 1-h air quality standard (0.2ppm) being exceeded on 27 occasions in 2011. At Port Pirie, contamination of the urban environment is arguably worse with 24-h maximum TSP values for lead-in-air and arsenic-in-air of 22.57μg/m3 (2011) and 250ng/m3 (2009), respectively. Port Pirie has an annual average lead-in-air standard of 0.5μg/m3 (TSP) but there are no set values for arsenic. In 2012, the national 1-h standard for sulfur dioxide was exceeded 50 times in Port Pirie.Despite chronic childhood blood lead exposures in both communities, there is a history of denial and downplaying of the source and impact of the contamination. A contributory factor to this pattern of behaviour is the fragmented and inconsistent delivery of data as well as its interpretation in relation to environmental and health impacts from exposures. This study reviews available data sources and makes inference to the impacts from contamination and in doing so, explains why the current regulatory framework fails to protect the impacted communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-52
Number of pages18
JournalAeolian Research
Volume14
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014

Keywords

  • Arsenic
  • Atmospheric emissions
  • Environmental regulation
  • Health
  • Lead
  • Mining and smelting

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