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Broken Hill Playgrounds Contaminated

Broken Hill’s playgrounds are seriously contaminated by dusts containing arsenic, cadmium, lead, silver and zinc, according to a study published in Environmental Research. Furthermore, regular recontamination is making effective long-term mitigation strategies challenging.

“Twenty-one per cent of children under 5 years old in Broken Hill have blood lead levels above the recently withdrawn national goal of 10 μg/dL,” says lead researcher Prof Mark Taylor of Macquarie University.

Although childhood blood levels were thought to be declining, recent improvements in screening participation have revealed that the problem is worse than previously thought.

“The issue of ongoing environmental lead exposure in Broken Hill children will become all the more apparent once the new Australian intervention level of 5 μg/dL is implemented,” Taylor says. “At Broken Hill, this is likely to mean around 50% of the children will exceed this value. This group of children are vulnerable to adverse neuro­behavioural outcomes from environmental metal exposures.”

Playgrounds were identified as key exposure areas, with elevated levels of toxic metals in dust being easily transferred to hands during play activity. “Our study showed that the playgrounds to the south of Broken Hill were the most impacted,” Taylor says. “In particular, after playing at one playground, hand lead levels were 60,900 μg/m2 – more than 150 times the clean-up goal that was used for the Western Australia Esperance lead spill clean up program.”

The levels recorded were significantly higher than Taylor found in a previous study of the smelter city of Port Pirie.