“DO they work with chemicals, minerals, mining?”
That was a toxicologist’s first disturbing response to the unlabelled results of a hair test on a nine-year-old girl who grew up less than 1.5 kilometres from Cockburn Cement’s Munster plant (“Campaign gets heavy,” Herald, August 24, 2019).
Peter Dingle, a leading researcher and prolific author on human health issues, was asked for a blind analysis of the results after they showed uranium, vanadium, boron, cadmium, nickel, silver, strontium and molybdenum at levels up to 12 times higher than the average population.
Dr Tingle, a former associate professor at Murdoch University’s school of environmental science, said the heavy metals found in the girl’s hair were at “alarming” levels.
“Yes they look like extremely high levels. It is not uncommon to have a few elevated – but not so many, so high,” Dr Dingle said.
He concluded the patient would be at risk of forming neurological disorders and needed immediate detoxification.
“Most definitely mental health issues – since those heightened levels affect the development of the nervous system.
“Beyond that the heightened levels of various numbers of the heavy metals point to severe disruptions with liver and kidney function.
“Find an environmental GP who can help detox,” he warned.
The young girl’s family have now relocated to the eastern states to avoid further contamination, but her mother says she worries about her former neighbours.
“This is such sad news,” she said of Dr Dingle’s analysis.
“Especially knowing that everybody has been exposed to exactly the same conditions that my daughter has been exposed to and would likely have the same levels.”
The girl’s mother, who didn’t want the family identified, is convinced Cockburn Cement was responsible for the lion’s share of the heavy metals found in her daughter.
“I wish that Cockburn Cement would relocate into an area which is not to the detriment of the population around it.
“It needs to move out of a residential area.
“It’s quite disgusting – the smell, the air pollution.”
The mother says her daughter’s hay fever and asthma improved just a fortnight after they moved away.
“She did suffer with hay fever, and she was allergic to dust, and that was found out when she had a severe asthma attack and asthma has formed from that,” the mother said.
She also called on Cockburn council to do more to represent the residents.
The girl’s case has local residents’ group Cockburn Pollution Stoppers calling on the McGowan government to do further testing in the area. CPS commissioned the initial test but spokesperson Greg Hocking says they don’t have the money or the expertise for an extended trial.
A retired lawyer, Mr Hocking fears an artificial lake on the cement factory’s land may be leaching pollutants into subsoils and affecting surrounding urban areas, which could have contributed to the girl’s elevated levels.
“We managed to attain samples that somebody supplied from on-site in mid 2018,” Mr Hocking said.
“From coal stockpile, limekiln dust piles, Portland cement clinker and also waste water going into an artificial lake.
“They were legally allowed to be there and the samples were returned.”
They all showed levels of uranium, lead, arsenic, sulphur, nickel and mercury, which also turned up in samples taken from the tops of cars, laptops and prams in surrounding homes late last year.
Mr Hocking said the samples had been shown to various politicians with most ignoring them.
“They’ve gone to the minister Josh Wilson and a few other politicians. They have had these results,” he said.
Dr Dingle, still unaware of the source of the sample, also raised storage methods as a concern.
“The aim would be to identify the source. What they have been exposed to may be leaching from their storage supplies of these minerals.”
Greens mining and pastoral MLC Robin Chapple has backed the residents.
“Locals in Munster have been copping dust, odour and pollution for too long now,” Mr Chapple said.
“It’s at the point where they’re making their kids play indoors on bad days.
“Cockburn Cement is the only facility that burns coals within the Perth metropolitan area, which is unacceptable.
“We also know that there are dangerous chemicals being emitted,” Mr Chapple said.
The state water and environment department has been monitoring odours and air quality from within the plant and outlying areas since late last year.
“DWER have investigated, however are still examining various ways of working with both Cockburn Cement and locals to reach a solution,” Mr Chapple said.
“Stronger regulation is needed to protect residents – this is not just an environmental issue, it’s a public health issue.”
WA environment minister Stephen Dawson says there are “detailed conditions” regarding monitoring of the plant, but he’d asked the company to go further following a recent appeals process over its licence.
“As a result of the appeals process, I have required CCL to undertake investigations to establish the source and cause of odours from the premises,” Mr Dawson said.
“I understand CCL has recently submitted a report to [DWER] on the outcomes of those investigations and that the department will undertake a peer review of this report.”
He said it would be made public in due course, but Mr Hocking wants it released immediately.
“We want them to stop burning coals which gets rid of all the particulates and heavy metals,” he said.
“They have to use some fuel; just use natural gas to reduce the risk to adults and children.”
Cockburn Cement says previous health studies didn’t find any difference in respiratory conditions between children living near the plant and other parts of Perth, and emissions had “decreased significantly” since then.
The company says its emissions are well below its licence limit, which was set to protect human health and the environment.
by TATIANA DALIN