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Independent Toxicologist Delivers Final Report on Rosebery concerns

02 March 2009

An independent toxicologist has presented his final report to the project team set up to investigate health concerns raised by a group of Rosebery residents.

The Director of Public Health, Dr. Roscoe Taylor, and the Director of the EPA, Warren Jones, said Professor Brian Priestly had concluded that the evidence gathered during the investigation does not support the belief that the residents' health problems are related to exposure to heavy metals in the environment.

Dr. Taylor said that Professor Priestly had found that none of the soil, dust, water or air samples taken indicated a significant risk of toxic exposure.

"His overall conclusion is that the biological test results obtained from the residents do not confirm toxicologically significant exposure for metals such as arsenic, lead or manganese," Dr Taylor said.

"As a consequence the report recommends that further environmental sampling is not warranted and that further biological monitoring will not be helpful in resolving the exposure question."

"That's not to say that the residents do not have health conditions which require further medical follow up and this is acknowledged by Professor Priestly in his report.

"He recommends that the residents follow up their general health concerns through their own medical practitioners and that DHHS should try to help facilitate this process," Dr. Taylor said.

The joint Public Health - EPA project team will now examine the report in detail with the view to completing its own report, which will be presented to Dr Taylor and Mr Jones by the end of the month.

Mr. Jones said a range of follow up testing had been conducted by the EPA in line with the recommendations made in Professor Priestly's preliminary report released late last year.

"The Preliminary report evaluated the soil and water samples taken around the properties and noted the residents' concerns about offensive odours and the potential for dusts and toxic airborne pollutants to enter the houses," Mr Jones said.

The Preliminary report recommended the EPA conduct further tests to assess possible airborne exposures, including sampling indoor dust and wipes of food preparation surfaces and airborne levels of H2S and arsine gas.

"Only sub-floor sampling for some of the houses took place, because residents withdrew permission for any indoor sampling to be undertaken by the EPA," Mr Jones said. Average H2S levels were well below any level likely to cause adverse health effects and also well below odour detection levels, although transient spikes in air concentration sufficient to be detected as odour cannot be ruled out.

Results received after the finalisation of Professor Priestly's report indicate that arsine is not likely to be a pollutant of concern in the area of the residential properties.

Professor Brian Priestly is the Director of the Australian Centre for Human Health Risk Assessment and is a highly regarded expert in toxicology and human health risk assessment. He was asked to provide expert opinion to the project team, including analysing a range of environmental sampling and health testing and conducting a site visit last year where he met concerned residents.

He delivered a preliminary report to the project team in December which found there was no immediate, direct threat to human health at the Rosebery properties.

Dr. Taylor said the project team had undertaken a thorough and extensive investigation which would culminate with a final report at the end of March.

"It has been an emotional time for the residents involved and we have endeavoured to keep them informed as the investigation has progressed.

"In line with Professor Priestly's recommendation, DHHS will continue to be in contact with the residents if that's what they would like. I am also intending to hold further talks with the local council to explore what can be done about improving drainage in the resident's yards," Dr Taylor said.

To view a copy of Professor Priestly's Executive Summary and Recommendations go to the public health website