Birds fall out of sky in Australia – 04/06/2007

  • November 27, 2013 at 11:22 pm #1454

    from rocky:

    Birds fell out of the sky as a whole town was poisoned by lead dust
    By Kathy Marks in Sydney
    Published: 05 April 2007
    A strange silence was the first clue that something was wrong. The
    dawn chorus that usually woke residents of the picturesque coastal town
    of Esperance, in Western Australia, had stopped. Then birds began
    falling out of the sky.

    Local people were alarmed when they came across dead lorikeets,
    wattlebirds, honeyeaters and silvereyes in their parks and back yards.
    Health officials told them not to worry. But they tested their
    rainwater tanks, the main source of drinking water, and found
    dangerously high levels of lead or nickel in more than a third.

    The authorities still insisted there was no cause for concern. Then
    they tested the seabed at the Esperance port, through which nickel and
    lead carbonate mined inland are shipped to Asia. Some samples contained
    130 times the recommended health levels of the two metals. It was also
    established that 4,000 birds had died of lead poisoning.

    There was lead in the air, lead in the drinking water, and lead in the
    sea. And when health officials finally admitted that there might cause
    for concern and began testing the population, they found lead in their

    Out of 900 people tested, 12 – including two young children – had
    higher levels than those deemed acceptable by the World Health
    Organisation. Lead is a particular hazard for small children and
    pregnant women.

    The West Australian government has now ordered an inquiry. The port
    authority has halted exports of lead carbonate, and the mine, Magellan
    Metals, has suspended operations. Residents have been warned not to
    drink water from their tanks and to avoid eating fish, shellfish or
    crustaceans caught locally.

    But residents fear that their long-term health has been damaged and
    they are furious with local authorities for playing down the risks. It
    was December when the birds began to die. Only in the past fortnight
    has the situation been treated with due seriousness.

    Meanwhile, it has emerged that the port authority did not report two
    “spikes” in lead dust emission levels, recorded in February and May
    last year.

    Graham Jacobs, a GP and local politician, said: “I think it is
    appalling. Lead is a serious heavy metal pollutant, and it has enormous
    implications for the vulnerable people, particularly, in our

    Dr Jacobs said earlier official advice that the lead levels that killed
    the birds did not pose a threat to humans had been premature.

    “It’s a bit like me saying my patient is not having a heart attack,
    without looking at the blood test or the ECG (electrocardiogram),” he
    told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

    More than 100,000 tons of lead carbonate – by far the most toxic form
    of lead, if inhaled or ingested – have been shipped through the port
    over the past 18 months. The birds were poisoned by lead dust from the

    The high levels of nickel and lead at the port were found in rocks and
    sediment next to the loading wharf, and the state’s director of
    environmental protection, Robert Atkins, said they were, “most likely
    to have arisen from drainage off the port wharf area and the loading

    The mining company has suggested that the lead be exported in sealed
    containers, or turned into pellets. Previously it was transported in a
    granulated form. But Esperance residents want the shipments halted
    completely. There is speculation that lead dust escaped during loading
    and was blown over the town where it settled on roofs and was then
    washed into rainwater tanks.

    Jim McGinty, the state health minister, called the situation in
    Esperance, “very worrying from a public health perspective”.

    Jim Dodds, a health department spokesman, told ABC that unsafe lead
    levels in blood had not been found across the entire population, or
    even throughout families, so the cause was not clear.

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