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. 

Port Pirie children’s blood lead levels

The Port Pirie Lead Implementation Program and its operations has always aligned to the NHMRC guidelines and children’s blood lead levels are reported against the specified measures.

Reporting of blood lead levels of children aged under 5 years living in Port Pirie for:

See the Testing and reporting Port Pirie children’s blood lead levels (PDF 1MB) for more information on what we report on and why.

Soil lead concentrations

The 2013 Port Pirie Soil Lead Concentrations Report – prepared for the Port Pirie Regional Council (PDF 1.9MB) confirms that after decades of smelting, the lead contamination in Port Pirie is widespread. While this study does not indicate any new risk to the local community, it reiterates the importance of actions the community takes to reduce exposure to lead.

The survey took samples from 353 sites from land including footpaths, nature strips and public parks. It was found that 20 per cent had lead concentrations higher than 600 parts per million which is the national Health Investigation Levels for public spaces - indicating these sites require further investigation which SA Health will assist local council with this work.

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 Country Health SA 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

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.


Lead Abatement Program, Port Pirie 

In response to recommendations from the recent evaluation and review of the Targeted Lead Abatement Program, SA Health will move from reporting Port Pirie children’s blood lead levels quarterly to annually.

Annual reporting will provide greater certainty and representation of the population of children living in Port Pirie.

The next report will be published early next year and will comprise the blood-lead level results of all children aged zero to four and pregnant women tested in 2021. Annual reporting will address statistical weaknesses associated with quarterly reporting of partial datasets, as children are usually only tested once per year.

Further information

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