Xstrata cuts lead emissions as Australia suit looms
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Xstrata Plc said on Tuesday it was working to improve lead emission controls at its Mount Isa mining and smelting complex in Australia, where health officials are investigating high lead levels in children.
Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson told the state parliament on Tuesday that 45 children in the Mount Isa region showed elevated lead levels that could impair their behavioral and intellectual development.
Last week, Australian law firm Slater and Gordon said it was preparing a case against Xstrata on behalf of the parents of 6-year-old Mount Isa resident Stella Hare, saying she showed high levels of lead, selenium, cadmium and arsenic in her blood. "Since Xstrata's involvement began in 2003, we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on over 80 environmental improvements which are enabling us to progress towards capturing 95 percent of our emissions," said Xstrata Copper North Queensland's chief operating officer, Steve de Kruijff.
But high levels of lead occurred naturally in the ground on which the mining town of Mount Isa was built, he said.
"That is why the mine is here and it is why the town was built in this location," de Kruijff said
Official results of the testing are due to be released next month at a public forum in Mount Isa, where 4 percent of the world's lead is produced.
"Initial findings have shown 45 children, or around 10 percent of the sample, had elevated blood levels," Robertson said.
"Without prejudicing any legal cases that may be occurring at this point in time, no one living in Mount Isa can ignore the fact that their community is built on top of a major lead deposit."
The town, about 1,300 km (800 miles) north west of the Queensland city of Brisbane, sits directly adjacent to the zinc, lead, copper and silver mining operation.
Concerns over lead contamination forced another international mining company, Ivernia Inc of Canada, to idle its Magellan lead mine in western Australia after lead residue was blamed for the death of thousands of birds.
Xstrata acquired the Mount Isa operations, a sprawling complex of outback mines and smelters churning out millions of metric tons of copper, lead, zinc, coal and silver when it bought MIM Holdings Ltd in 2003.
(Reporting by James Regan)