In 2007, the shipping of lead and nickel through Esperance Port resulted in contamination of the environment and elevated lead and nickel in blood and urine concentrations of children. A clean up strategy was implemented, focusing on the Port area and individual homes. Little attention was given to nickel exposure or to overall metals exposure of the community.
In response to community concern about continuing metals exposure a cross-sectional noninvasive exposure study of 39 children aged 1–12 years residing in the Esperance region was undertaken. Children provided a sample of hair, toenails, first morning void urine, drinking water, and residential soil and dust. A questionnaire about lifestyle, activities, and diet was administered.
Concentrations of nickel and lead were low in biological and environmental samples. However other metals were elevated in biological samples, with 4.5% and 18% of participants recording elevated hair aluminium (<DL – 251μg/g) and copper (7–415 μg/g concentrations; and 13.5% of participants had elevated urinary aluminium (<DL-210μg/L), manganese (<DL to 550 μg/L), and copper (<DL to 87 μg/L). Concentrations of nickel in urine, soil, and dust were found to decrease with increasing distance from the participants' residence to the Port, as did soil lead concentrations. Nickel dust concentrations and nickel and copper soil concentrations were found to be significantly higher in properties at a distance of ≤2 km, but exposure concentrations were not. Children who ate home grown produce had higher hair copper concentrations. The elevated urinary and hair manganese and aluminium concentrations were not explained by any other variables collected in this study.
This study was small and restricted to the use of noninvasive samples for metal analysis. However, the results indicate that exposure to both nickel and lead is limited in this group of children but some metals were elevated and require further investigation to determine sources and significance.