The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and the Department of Health are working together to investigate potential public health risks from environmental contamination near a recycling facility in Rocherlea.
Lead has been detected in dust near the facility at higher than normal levels. While there is no evidence of harm to the community, this has prompted further testing by the EPA, to determine the extent of environmental contamination and any actions required to keep the community safe.
Public Health Services (PHS) and the EPA are meeting with local businesses in the area in the coming days to provide advice on how to minimise exposure to dust, how to safely clean properties, and how to get blood lead levels tested if necessary.
The joint investigation was initiated following concerns from the EPA regarding a recycling facility at Rocherlea that has a large volume of stockpiled materials that are not covered. Some of the stockpiled material is a controlled waste under Tasmanian law due to levels of heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and other contaminants, including fine dust that could blow offsite.
In August and October 2023, the EPA conducted preliminary environmental dust sampling from external surfaces at several premises close to the recycling facility. Additional sampling on nearby properties was recently undertaken in January 2024.
EPA Director Wes Ford has issued an Environment Protection Notice today requiring the facility to immediately cease using the equipment that produces dust and to cover stockpiles of material that are likely sources of dust on windy days.
Mr Ford said the EPA is investigating the site and continues to closely monitor it for compliance with environmental laws, however it was important for the EPA to take action to require the facility to immediately reduce the level of dust produced and that leaves the site.
“The EPA is concerned about the environmental impacts of the site, including the release of dust, arising from the processing of the large volume of stockpiled waste, including controlled waste," Mr Ford said.
“Results of dust sampling by the EPA at several locations near the recycling facility have confirmed detectable levels of heavy metals including lead, which has prompted further environmental sampling and the provision of precautionary public health advice.
“The EPA is engaging an independent consultant with expertise to design and undertake wider environmental sampling in the area starting in February 2024.
“This additional environmental investigation will be done in close collaboration with PHS and will further inform assessment of any potential human health risk. A thorough environmental investigation is likely to take several months."
Testing of soil samples from Brooks High School in late January 2024 found no evidence of elevated lead. There is no risk to human health from lead or metals in the soil. The school is undertaking extensive cleaning to ensure a safe start to the school year. Some indoor dust samples are being tested for lead, as a matter of caution, and the results will be available in the coming days.
Director of Public Health, Dr Mark Veitch said PHS was providing precautionary advice while working with the EPA to determine any potential risks to human health.
“PHS will work closely with the EPA and the community on the next steps, including further testing to work out the extent and level of contamination."
“Environmental Health Officers from PHS are visiting workplaces and providing information to nearby residences. Levels of contamination are usually much less several hundred metres away from the source; information and precautionary advice are important public health roles in these situations", Dr Veitch said.
The standard advice to people and businesses to limit their exposure to lead includes:
Regularly clean floors, ledges, windowsills, and other flat surfaces with a damp mop or damp rag
If it is dusty outside, try to keep dust out by closing windows and doors
Wash and dry your hands before eating or preparing food
If you smoke or vape, wash and dry your hands first
Make sure children cannot get at peeling paint or chewable surfaces or objects that could have lead-based paint, such as old toys or furniture or old painted house fittings.
This advice is also useful in the current situation.
As part of the precautionary approach, PHS is making free blood lead testing available to people who work or live in or very near the Rocherlea industrial area, north of George Town Road.
For more information, including advice on who should consider blood testing and how to get tested, go to www.health.tas.gov.au/rocherlea or call 1800 671 738.
PHS and the EPA will continue to keep the community informed of developments and advice.