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Family loses Mount Isa mine lead-poisoning claim


A Queensland court has rejected a multi-million dollar damages claim that alleged a mine's negligence caused a girl to suffer brain damage from lead poisoning.

The family of Bethany Sanders, now 17, lived within three kilometres of the Mount Isa mining and smelting operations from 2007, having moved to Queensland from Norfolk Island the previous year.

Her mother Sharnelle Seeto claimed to have been unaware of any risk to children associated with lead exposure during the first six months of being in the northern Queensland town, a judgment published on Friday says.

The court heard during a trial last year Ms Seeto took not steps at first to stop her daughter from eating dirt which she did regularly.

Bethany was diagnosed some time later with iron deficiency anaemia, a consequence of which is pica, a disorder in which people eat things that are not food.

Her blood lead level was tested after the family saw an advertisement in the local newspaper about risk associated with lead in September 2007.

It was found to be high and Ms Seeto immediately took steps to decrease her daughter's exposure to lead.

Three months later after Bethany's levels were higher Ms Seeto and the children moved from the town.

Bethany's legal team argued neurological damage occurred during the time she had the high blood lead levels.

Mount Isa Mines argued Bethany would have developed the injury irrespective as it was likely there was another lead source in the home.

Brisbane Supreme Court Justice Frances Williams found Bethany's father Michael Sanders, who did not give evidence during the trial, was aware of lead exposure issues, especially to children.

She also concluded it was more probable than not that Ms Seeto was exposed to promotional material for a lead-testing campaign displayed in the town at the time.

Justice Williams found the mining operations resulted in emissions of lead into the atmosphere from 1990 but most travelled away from Mount Isa because of prevailing wind direction and controls on the smelting operations during unfavourable weather conditions.

As a result the emissions did not make any material contribution to Bethany's elevated blood lead levels.

The court found the state government was obliged to warn people about potential sources of lead in the community at the time.

Those activities were undertaken properly and involved Mount Isa Mines.

Justice Williams also found Bethany's iron deficiency anaemia was severe enough to be capable of causing significant cognitive impairment of the kind suffered by the teenager.

She found the negligence claim for $5 million by Bethany failed, ordering parties make submissions about whether any further findings are required by September 8 before making a final order.