Port Pirie Lead Implementation Program

Port Pirie, South Australia (located 230km north of Adelaide) is the location of one of the world’s largest primary lead smelters and the third largest silver producer that has been in continuous operation since 1889. Over this time airborne lead-contaminated dust produced during smelting operations has been transported by wind and deposited throughout the city and in houses and on properties. This environmental contamination is an ongoing source of lead exposure for the community and exposes children in Port Pirie to unacceptable levels of lead.

The Port Pirie Lead Implementation Program aims to help reduce the amount of lead that children are absorbing to protect them from the harmful effects of lead in their contaminated environment.

National recommendations

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends that if a person has a blood lead level greater than 5 micrograms per decilitre the source of exposure should be investigated and reduced, particularly if the person is a child or pregnant woman. See the Frequently Asked Questions: NHMRC Review of blood lead level guidelines (PDF 445KB) as to why the recommended lead levels for investigation for reduces as well as blood levels and lead exposure. 

About the program

In response to this environmental lead contamination, the South Australian Government established the long-running Port Pirie Lead Implementation Program delivered by Yorke and Northern Local Health Network and the local Environmental Health Centre in March 1984. 

The Lead Implementation Program is the key State government contribution to the overarching Targeted Lead Abatement Program (TLAP) established in 2014 to enhance the work already being done in the Port Pirie community to:

  • reduce lead exposure
  • identify new ways to further improve children’s blood lead levels.

TLAP is a joint program of the Port Pirie Smelter and the South Australian government. It is designed, in conjunction with a major Smelter Redevelopment project to:

  • upgrade smelter technology
  • achieve significant reductions in children’s blood lead levels
  • assist the local community in achieving an acceptable balance which safeguards the health of local residents
  • ensure the ongoing viability of the smelter and promotes the sustainability of Port Pirie

Significant program reviews

Port Pirie Lead Investigation Group

The Port Pirie Lead Investigation Group is based in Adelaide. This group works closely with the Environmental Health Centre to research and obtain evidence for the strategies and interventions provided by the Centre to Port Pirie families to help reduce the exposure of children to smelter pollutants including lead and sulphur dioxide. The group also monitors, evaluates and reports data collected in Port Pirie including population blood lead level trends, and soil lead levels. Assistance and advice is also provided more widely, to other South Australian Government agencies, the Port Pirie Regional Council, the Port Pirie smelter and other governments across Australia.

Further information

For further information on lead, including the Lead Implementation Program contact SA Health's Scientific Services on (08) 8226 7100.