The SA government will spend $2.5 million to upgrade houses to reduce children’s lead exposure in Port Pirie, as health studies continue to show the impact of the regional town’s smelter on residents.

Key points:

  • 43 Housing SA properties in Port Pirie will be upgraded to reduce dust and potential lead exposure
  • The $2.5 million program will take about 18 months to complete
  • Some parents are already reporting drops in their children’s lead levels after the works

As part of the Targeted Lead Abatement Program (TLAP), 43 Housing SA properties will undergo remediation works to reduce lead dust around homes in an attempt to reduce exposure.

Depending on the house, these upgrades will include sealing window and door gaps, replacing carpet with linoleum, and covering contaminated soil with turf, plants and gravel.

Energy and Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said 13 government-owned homes where children under the age of five lived had already been upgraded.

“We’re determined to reduce lead in [the] blood in young children and the way to do that is to reduce lead in air and lead in dust that can be raised,” he said.

Brookney Everus says her family’s backyard has been transformed by the remediation works.(ABC North and West SA: Gillian Aeria)

Mr van Holst Pellekaan said some parents had already reported up to a 50 per cent decrease in their child’s blood lead levels after the works.

Backyard transformed

Brookney Everus, mother of one-year-old Hayes, was contacted by Housing SA to upgrade her home.

Works on her house involved covering the front and backyard with gravel and turf, and installing a pergola to make the play area safer.

She said the upgrades took about five months and were completed in September.

Ms Everus hopes her son’s blood lead levels will continue to drop.

“[His levels] were close to 20 [micrograms] but it has come down to 14,” she said.

Outdoor toys and equipment need to be cleaned frequently to remove lead dust.(ABC North and West SA: Gillian Aeria)

Mr van Holst Pellekaan hopes the state government’s works will prompt others to make changes.

“These families are doing all the right things for their children and it’s vital that the state government, as the landlord, helps to make these houses as safe as possible,” he said.

“I hope that people who own their own homes or are in private rental see the tangible benefits in the Housing SA properties that can be achieved and that encourages them more to do the same in their own homes,” he said.

Children under five years are most susceptible to absorbing lead from the environment and their blood is frequently tested in Port Pirie.(ABC North and West SA: Gillian Aeria)

Over the past years, blood lead levels in Port Pirie children have been trending upwards.

TLAP is a joint program between the state government and lead smelter, Nyrstar. It was due to expire in 2024 but recently received 10-year extension.

The housing upgrades will continue over the next 18 months.