The link between Port Pirie’s lead smelter emissions and childhood health issues is well documented, but a new study reveals a possible solution for reducing childhood lead exposure – amending the soil.
A University of South Australia experiment shows that treating lead-contaminated soil with water-soluble phosphates can reduce lead exposure significantly via both hand-to-mouth soil ingestion and dust inhalation.
“Amending soil may be the most cost-effective strategy compared to removing, replacing, capping or washing the soil,” according to UniSA environmental scientist Dr Farzana Kastury.
Dr Kastury and her colleague, Associate Professor Albert Juhasz from the Future Industries Institute, led a large international study to “immobilise” lead in the soil by changing its bioavailability so that it can’t be easily absorbed in the body.
Lead is ingested mainly through children playing in soil, but the UniSA researchers also looked at how lead is absorbed into the lungs and gastrointestinal tract by inhaling household dust contaminated with lead.
Dr Kastury recorded lead absorption using indoor dust from an old, uninhabited house in Port Pirie, where lead concentrations were 30 times higher compared to the soil outdoors.
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