Campaign gets heavy

• A local girl plays in a small public park with Cockburn Cement Limited’s plant in the background. Local lobby group Cockburn Pollution Stoppers believes the company’s coal burning may be behind elevated levels of heavy metals found in her hair.

A YOUNG girl living near Cockburn Cement has been found to have elevated heavy metal levels in a recent hair test.

The nine-year-old’s test, conducted by Southern Cross University near Lismore in NSW, has prompted local anti-pollution campaigners to step up a campaign to have the WA health department conduct a wide-ranging study into the health of other residents.

Adding to Cockburn Pollution Stoppers’ concerns, samples from testing of 15 Munster, Beeliar and Yangebup homes also showed traces of arsenic, aluminium, cadmium, lead and mercury above expected background levels.

CPS spokesperson Greg Hocking said the young girl had lived in the area her entire life, and he was concerned that four of the elevated heavy metals were known to be produced by Cockburn Cement. The company insists its emissions are well below guidelines mandated by the WA government.

The hair test showed levels of uranium, vanadium, boron, cadmium, nickel, silver, strontium and molybdenum, which eastern states biochemist and naturopath Hartmut Gunther says are between 3 and 12 times higher than the sample population average.

Mr Hocking said the group conducted its own testing after repeated knock-backs from the WA government but believes the testing shows it’s time others stepped up.

“Our group doesn’t have the money or expertise to do any more testing,” he said.

Emissions

“We want the Department of Health to work with the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation.”

In July last year health minister Roger Cooke wrote to the group telling them any studies would be limited by the difficulties in identifying emissions that could be traced back to Cockburn Cement, the time it took some health conditions to develop and the small population surrounding the plant.

The letter said the health department relies on the state’s environmental regulator to alert it to emissions exceeding national standards before it could instigate an investigation into public health issues.

The factory has filters on its stacks but locals say dust still settles on their houses, lawns, cars, laptops, and other items left outside. Mr Hocking says he’s got 69 documented cases of local respiratory and skin problems that have developed since residents moving into the area.

“The solution to most of the air pollution is for CCL to stop burning coal which is a grave risk to public health,” Mr Hocking said.

Later this year DWER will release results of its first monitoring of the plant, which measured odour and dust emissions over 50 hours between February and May this year. CPS believes toxic gases, heavy metals and particulates should have been added to the monitoring.

by TATIANA DALIN

Cockburn Cement responds

The following statement, released to the Herald by Cockburn Cement, has been slightly edited for space.

THERE have previously been health studies relating to the local area funded by the Department of Health which did not find a difference in respiratory condition between children in the local area and other parts of Perth.

It is worth noting that emissions from the Munster plant have also decreased significantly since that study was conducted.

Cockburn Cement is not a health authority.

The company will be guided by expert bodies like the Department of Health or regulators like DWER on whether they should conduct health studies in the local area.

Protect

Cockburn Cement is confident that all its emissions are well below its licence limits, as demonstrated by all monitoring and reporting.

Those licence limits are set specifically to protect human health and the environment.

As a result there should be minimal impact on health and environment.

The company has been operating at the site for nearly 65 years and has no evidence of its employees’ health being impacted by working at the plant.

Health monitoring of employees is undertaken annually and many employees have worked at the site for several decades.

There are different forms of emissions monitoring undertaken in and around the Munster Plant. Some monitoring relates to dust and other monitoring to various compounds.

There is information about the monitoring available from various sources.

Monitoring and reporting is undertaken by independent specialist companies that are contracted by Cockburn Cement, as the company has responsibility for this activity under its licence from DWER.

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