Mining giant blames ‘dirty’ mum for child poisoning

 

A GLOBAL mining giant blames a Queensland mum for her young daughter's brain damage, claiming that her failure to adequately clean her Mount Isa home, and encourage handwashing and good hygiene, was the reason her daughter had lead poisoning.

Mt Isa Mines Limited (MIM), now owned by Swiss-owned giant Glencore, alleges in its defence to a $1 million damages suit by mum Sharnelle Seeto that it is not liable for daughter Bethany Sanders' injuries because Mrs Seeto "did not take steps to ensure" Bethany was not exposed to lead dust.

MIM claims Mrs Seeto, a food processor from Kippa-Ring, should have acted on "hygiene advice" given to her by the Queensland Health department in October 2007 and again in a letter a month later, when she lived in Mount Isa.

The advice allegedly included to clean and dust the home, clean airconditioning units, household appliances, roofs and gutters, make kids wash their hands, wash food and limit kids' play in the soil to reduce exposure to lead particles.

But Mrs Seeto alleges MIM had a duty to warn and inform her of the risk of injury to her daughter if exposed to lead and how to reduce the risks.

Sharnelle Seeto with her daughter Bethany Sanders.
Sharnelle Seeto with her daughter Bethany Sanders.

Mrs Seeto said because MIM failed to warn her, she was unaware of the risks of lead poisoning and she left the windows open in Bethany's bedroom when she slept, and dust from the emissions accumulated on Bethany's cot, as well as the bedroom windows and window sills, the kitchen and dining room.

Mrs Seeto says in her claim that when living at two houses in Mount Isa between April 2007 and January 2008 Bethany crawled around the floor in the house and played in the dirt in the yard and at the park, and from time-to-time put dirt in her mouth.

Bethany, now 14, is the youngest of Mrs Seeto's three children and allegedly ingested, inhaled or absorbed the lead from dust, and particulate fallout from MIM's mining and smelting emissions which allegedly settled on buildings, roads and soils in Mount Isa.

Their two homes were just 3km from the smelter, the claim states.

Bethany's level was 27.4 micrograms per decalitre, the claim states.

Sharnelle Seeto, who now lives in Kippa-Ring, says her daughter’s health problems are as a result of lead exposure from when they lived in Mount Isa.
Sharnelle Seeto, who now lives in Kippa-Ring, says her daughter’s health problems are as a result of lead exposure from when they lived in Mount Isa.

MIM denies liability for Bethany's injuries, also arguing Bethany could have got lead poisoning from her eating disorder Pica, which involves eating hair, dirt, and paint chips, given that the family lived in a 1950s era house in Soldier's Hill "when use of leaded paint was still prevalent".

MIM also claims Bethany's mental impairment could be due to thalassemia, a genetic disorder which causes severe anaemia.

Mrs Seeto's Supreme Court damages claim is a test case for children who allege they were poisoned by lead from the Mount Isa smelters. It was launched nine years ago but remains in its infancy with no trial date set.

In an April 23 letter, MIM lawyer Geoff Rankin, from law firm Allens, blames Mrs Seeto for a "recent history of delay".

The case is expected to return to court at the end of this year. If successful, two other stalled million-dollar cases brought by the mothers of Sidney Body and Stella Hare will be run.

Originally published as Mining giant blames 'dirty' mum for child poisoning



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