Jul 10, 2009

Is Rosebery a health hazard?

Two women are claiming they have developed serious health issues from exposure to the run-off from an open cut mine in their town, and are demanding the Tasmanian government relocate them.

In November last year, two women from the mining town of Rosebery in the hills of western Tasmania hit local media headlines with a call for an investigation into the presence of heavy metals in the water around their homes.

They got their investigation, but now they have rejected the findings of a Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services toxicology investigation into the presence of heavy metals in their town and health problems experienced by locals, saying the DHHS failed to conduct adequate testing of humans and ground water in their research.

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9 thoughts on “Is Rosebery a health hazard?

  1. Mark Duffett

    Rosebery is not an open cut, it’s an underground mine.

  2. Eleri Harris

    The Rosebery mine is mostly underground, but I have been told there is a relatively recent (2002?) open cut section directly north of the homes on Murchison street Stejskal and Seltitzas say are affected. It is visible on Google maps if you want to have a look.

  3. Ian Sale

    This sounds like a June Bug event – see http://www.springerlink.com/content/v5u85k6jv858581r/ for an account of hysterical contagion.

  4. amanda rainey

    From the report:

    “As things transpired, because the residents withdrew permission for any indoor sampling to be undertaken by the EPA, only sub-floor air sampling for two houses actually occurred.”

    From the residents:

    “They listed the following failures on behalf of the DHHS:…

    The failure to conduct roof, wall and under-floor cavity testing.”

    I don’t think you can have it both ways…

  5. Frank Campbell

    As a boy growing up in Rosebery I played in “Lake Bull”. This was a semi-liquid tailings dump where grey sandy mine muck accumulated over decades. It formed a kind of quicksand, and more than once kids had to rescue each other with ropes or sticks as they sank. The Rosebery mine extracts silver, lead and zinc, and dates from the 1890s. Last time I looked (1992) Lake Bull was still there.

    Rosebery was and possibly still is a dangerous and brutal environment. We had the run of the mine. Nothing could keep us out and no one tried. An overhead cableway from the Hercules mine at Williamstown ran over the town. At a certain point we could climb into the buckets and steal ore. If the damned thing started again we would have trundled off to the crusher. We were fascinated by ores, especially the crystalline ones such as Galena, which was mostly lead. These heavy lead ores were ideal for rock fights, which were conducted like trench warfare. Injuries were common. We also commandeered railway ore trucks inside the mine. One boy lost his thumb when he couldn’t escape from the ropes tying him to the track quick enough. This “game” was derived from the Superman serials at the local cinema. Original we were not.

    Exposure to heavy metals was inevitable. We knew nothing about pollution. The entire place is impregnated with heavy metals. Mining in those days was entirely underground, but as I said above, it was standard practice to pump mine waste out and dump it above ground, where it polluted the Stitt River. Remember that Rosebery is one of the wettest places in Australia. Some time in the 80s (I think) , mining by chemicals began. This entails pumping liquid solvents into mines to separate metals from ores. Where did/does this waste go?

    You won’t read anything about all this in Geoffrey Blainey’s “Peaks of Lyell” (1954), his first book, which launched his career as a paid corporate historian.

    The residents of Rosebery today are living on a heavy metal waste site. The brutal macho days of mining may (or may not) be over, but the legacy lives on. Rosebery is a place few Australians have heard of. Tasmanians regard it as primitive, god-forsaken and best not mentioned in polite company. You can be sure that government has never conducted a single study into the health of miners or residents. Many are now dispersed as employment at the mines shrank due to technological innovation. Is there any interest in a health study of the West Coast mining towns? Or an audit of current mining practices? Or is the West Coast still dispensable, beyond the pale of civilisation?

  6. Frank Campbell

    The Rosebery mines are about the oldest on the west coast, continuously mined, and you can see aerial photos of the current “Lake Bull”, which now has water in it to reduce acids. Discharge is into the Stitt river, which was 40m from our house and in which we swam in summer.

    From Tas. Govt report, 2003: the general situation in Tas.

    “Waste rocks and tailings materials at many of the abandoned mine sites also commonly contain unusually high concentrations of trace metals (arsenic, copper, lead, zinc, tin and tungsten). Similar high levels of trace metals reflected in surface waters and stream sediments near mine sites suggest that there is a significant release of these metals into the environment.”

  7. Joel B1

    Wow, this is so Crikey.
    You live in a century old-mining town then bitch about heavy metals?

    Get a grip on reality Crikey, you’re an embarrassment to real journalism.

    Obviously, you’re very good at commenting on other media reports…

  8. Frank Campbell

    Well Joel, fact is no one was aware of heavy metal pollution until recently, least of all the people who lived and worked in these towns. The companies often knew, but kept quiet. Wittenoom is the worst example. At last count 7000 have died with many more to follow, from mesothelioma and related cancers. The only reason I didn’t work there in the 60s is that I thought that the dust would aggravate my asthma. In the mid-70s hardware store workers didn’t wear masks when cutting asbestos-cement sheet. The danger was known then but most people ignored it.
    The Port Pirie lead smelter poisoned the town for decades. Only in the 1990s did extreme lead concentrations in children get attention.

    There are dozens of stories like this around the country.

    No surprise that in the most backward region in Australia, the West Coast of Tasmania, there’s finally some realisation.

    So your arrogance is misplaced, Joel.

  9. Glenn Brandham

    Well said, Frank.

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