A Queensland court has rejected a multi-million dollar damages claim alleging that a mine’s negligence caused a girl to suffer brain damage from lead poisoning.
The family of Bethany Sanders, now 17, lived within 3km 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, according to a judge’s decision handed down on Friday.
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The court heard during a trial last year that Seeto took no 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.
Sharnelle Seeto and her daughter Bethany Sanders. Credit: Courier Mail
Her blood lead level was tested after the family saw an advertisement in the local newspaper about the risk associated with lead in September 2007.
It was found to be high and Seeto immediately took steps to decrease her daughter’s exposure to lead.
Three months later, after Bethany’s levels were higher, 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.
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Queensland 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 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.
A family has lost a damages claim that Mt Isa Mines caused a girl brain damage from lead poisoning. Credit: AAP
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 to make submissions about whether any further findings are required by September 8 before making a final order.
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