15 December 2008
The results of the latest soil and water tests in the yards of several Rosebery residents concerned about their health and living environment have been provided to the residents.
EPA Director Warren Jones said the results of similar sampling on public land have also been provided to the West Coast Council.
"Late last month, officers representing the EPA took a number of surface and subsurface soil samples and tested water from springs and stormwater as part of the investigation into concerns raised by several residents," Mr Jones said.
"Our officers have also examined other available information on groundwater in the Rosebery area."
"Based on the results and the latest information, I am satisfied the chemistry of the water from the springs is consistent with that of shallow groundwater in the Rosebery area."
"While the waters have higher levels of metals than would be found in many other parts of the State, this appears to be typical of natural surface and ground waters in the local area."
"The waters are not strongly acidic and do not have a number of other chemical characteristics that would indicate acid drainage, which is relatively common problem on the west coast. We have found nothing to indicate a link between the groundwater and mining activities," Mr Jones said.
Mr Jones said while the waters have elevated levels of metals these do not generally exceed the national health guidelines for waters used for recreation, such as swimming.
"These guidelines are a useful screening tool and the best benchmark we have, although they are very conservative in this situation as none of the water is swallowed as the guidelines assume," Mr Jones said.
The latest results have also confirmed earlier isolated tests of soil which showed that the levels of several metals exceeded national Health Investigation Levels (HILs).
"We carried out more intensive sampling in the yards of three residences and also on some public land nearby. Approximately half of the samples on both private and public land had levels of one or more metals above Health Investigation Levels, with lead, arsenic, and manganese being the most common exceedances. There was one isolated exceedance of the HIL for cadmium," Mr Jones said.
"There are towns elsewhere in Australia where elevated soil metal levels have been found in areas of high mineralization with mining. Bendigo is one such example."
Mr Jones said it was important to note that if the level of a metal in soil exceeds the HIL, this does not imply that there is necessarily a health risk or that health effects would be expected.
"What the exceedances indicate is that further investigations, such as investigations of potential exposure pathways or further environmental sampling, are required to determine whether the soil represents a health risk," Mr Jones said.
"This is exactly what we are doing."
Mr Jones said the results of the test have been provided to the residents and the latest sampling results will assist the Director of Public Health Dr Roscoe Taylor in determining if there is a link between environmental conditions and health.
Dr Taylor said that the latest test results have been passed on to Professor Brian Priestly, an independent toxicologist who has been contracted to provide specialist advice to the project team.
"HILs are established by health and environment authorities in Australia on a conservative basis with a wide margin of safety to protect young children," Dr Taylor said.
"Before a contaminant in soil can become a health risk, it must first enter the body through either ingestion or swallowing, inhalation or through the skin."
"In relation to any contaminants in the soil in Rosebery, it is important for residents to know that the same sorts of simple hygiene measures that are already being practiced to reduce lead exposure will also protect against arsenic and other heavy metals."
Fact sheets on the simple precautions that can be taken have been provided to the residents and the local medical centre.
The testing is part of investigations by a project team which includes officers representing the EPA and Public Health.
Professor Brian Priestly is a highly regarded expert in toxicology and human health risk assessment who recently visited Rosebery to inspect sites and to talk with concerned residents of the town.
As part of his investigations, he also met the Director EPA Warren Jones and Director of Public Health Roscoe Taylor for briefings in Hobart.
The project team has asked Professor Priestly to prepare a preliminary report and this will guide what further action will be taken.