Evaluation and assessment of the efficacy of an abatement strategy in a former lead smelter community, Boolaroo, Australia
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This study examines the recent soil Lead Abatement Strategy (LAS) in Boolaroo, New South Wales, Australia, that was designed to “achieve a reduction in human exposure to lead dust contamination in surface soils”. The abatement programme addressed legacy contamination of residential areas following closure of lead smelting operations in 2003 at the Pasminco Cockle Creek Smelter (PCCS). The principal objective of the LAS was to “cap and cover” lead-contaminated soils within the urban environment surrounding the PCCS. Soil lead concentrations of 2500–5000 mg/kg were scheduled for removal and replacement, while concentrations between 1500 and 2500 mg/kg were replaced only under limited circumstances. To date, there has been no industry, government or independent assessment of the clean-up programme that involved >2000 homes in the township of Boolaroo. Thus, by measuring post-abatement soil lead concentrations in Boolaroo, this study addresses this knowledge gap and evaluates the effectiveness of the LAS for reducing the potential for lead exposure. Soil lead concentrations above the Australian residential soil health investigation level value for residential soils (300 mg/kg) were identified at all but one of the residential properties examined (n = 19). Vacuum dust samples (n = 17) from the same homes had a mean lead concentration of 495 mg/kg (median 380 mg/kg). Bio-accessibility testing revealed that lead in household vacuum dust was readily accessible (% bio-accessible) (mean = 92 %, median = 90 %), demonstrating that the risk of exposure via this pathway remains. Assessment of a limited number of properties (n = 8) where pre-abatement soil lead levels were available for comparison showed they were not statistically different to post-abatement. Although the LAS did not include treatment of non-residential properties, sampling of community areas including public sports fields, playgrounds and schools (n = 32) was undertaken to determine the contamination legacy in these areas. Elevated mean soil lead concentrations were found across public lands: sports fields = 5130 mg/kg (median = 1275 mg/kg), playgrounds and schools = 812 mg/kg (median = 920 mg/kg) and open space = 778 mg/kg (median = 620 mg/kg). Overall, the study results show that the LAS programme that was dominated by a “cap and cover” approach to address widespread lead contamination was inadequate for mitigating current and future risk of lead exposures.
KeywordsBoolaroo Lead exposure Lead Abatement Strategy Remediation evaluation Smelter
The residents of Boolaroo are thanked for their participation in this study. Donna Page, Matthew Kelly, Helen Gregory and Damon Cronshaw of the Newcastle Herald (Fairfax Media Ltd) are thanked for their support with this study, including obtaining volunteer participants and providing background documents. Laboratory analysis and Government Information (Public Access) requests were funded by Fairfax Media Ltd. The authors did not receive any other financial support from Fairfax Media Ltd. Fairfax Media Ltd was not involved in the formulation, review or editing of this article in any form. M.P. Taylor was appointed to the NSW EPA The Lead Expert Working Group in late 2014, the work of which is to evaluate effectiveness of the Lead Abatement Strategy, inter alia. The conclusions presented herein do not reflect those of that group and are independent of that process. P. Harvey is funded by a Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship (MQRES) (2012195) associated with an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship awarded to H. Handley (FT120100440). L. Kristensen and M. Rouillon are funded by an Australian Postgraduate Award. L. Wu is funded by a China Scholarship Council—Macquarie University (CSC-MQ) Scholarship. Macquarie University ENV301 students are thanked for their fieldwork assistance. The inorganics laboratory at the National Measurement Institute (NMI) is also thanked for analytical assistance.
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