Costerfield mine antimony FAQs

Antimony

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Antimony is a brittle silver-white metal that occurs naturally in the environment in soil and rocks in certain parts of the world.

As antimony is naturally occurring in the environment, people are exposed to relatively small amounts every day.

Unlike metals such as zinc, magnesium and iron, antimony is not an essential metal, meaning it is not required for normal body function.

Antimony is used in a variety of products including textiles (as a fire retardant) and electrical devices and is often added to other metals to make them harder.

Antimony is naturally occurring in the environment and levels in soil around Costerfield are known to be high.

This is related to the geology of the area and explains why this area is mined.

Antimony has been mined in the Costerfield area since the 1860s.

Considering the Costerfield area is naturally high in antimony, it is more likely that people living in this area may be exposed to higher levels than other communities living in areas with low environmental antimony levels.

Human exposure to antimony can occur in a number of ways, including:

  • Swallowing antimony in drinking water from rainwater tanks.
  • Swallowing antimony in soil on hands or objects placed in the mouth, behaviour particularly common in babies and young children.
  • Breathing in antimony in dust into the nose, throat and upper airways that is then swallowed.
  • Breathing in fine dust particles that contain antimony deeply into the lungs.

Antimony, unlike zinc, magnesium or iron, is not an essential metal for normal body function, so it makes sense to keep intake to a minimum.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set safe daily intake levels called Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) for the entire population.

For antimony, this is 6 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day.

This means an average 70 kg adult can safely take 420 micrograms per day and a 10 kg child can safely take 60 micrograms per day into their body for their entire lifetime.

Short-term exposure to levels exceeding the TDI are not a cause for concern, provided the person’s intake averaged over longer periods of time does not exceed this value.

Currently available information indicates that:

  • Swallowing about seven times the Tolerable Daily Intake can result in sweating.
  • Swallowing about seventy times the Tolerable Daily Intake can result in abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.

Government agencies acted quickly to investigate and address community concerns about dust coming from the mine at Costerfield.

Our branch took immediate action in March 2014 to reduce dust from the mine, issuing directions to the mine to put in place additional dust suppression measures. These are in place and have significantly reduced dust from the mine.

Government agencies commissioned an independent consultant to carry out testing of rainwater tanks, soil and air quality and to report back on any potential health risks.

The testing is now complete and the independent consultant has provided a report of the findings.

These reports, along with an individual property report, were provided to the households that were tested during prearranged visits from representatives from government, including staff from the department and Department of Health and the independent consultant who conducted the testing.

Report findings

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The rapid health assessment carried out by the independent consultant found elevated levels of antimony around Costerfield but determined that adverse health effects as a result are unlikely.

The rapid health assessment found elevated levels of antimony in soil and water in household rainwater tanks in Costerfield. Testing of soil around some properties showed elevated levels of antimony and most residential water tanks tested showed levels exceeding the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines value.

However, the report results show the amount of antimony from all sources of exposure is well below the safe limit for lifetime exposure set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

At nine properties the daily intake levels indicated higher than tolerable levels for babies or young children based on ingestion of 100 mg of soil and 1 litre of water per day over a lifetime.

However there are currently no children residing in these properties and once exposure suppression measures are in place antimony levels will be significantly reduced and any risk to children will be minimal.

No long or short term health effects are likely as long as the WHO’s Tolerable Daily Intake level is not exceeded over a lifetime.

Costerfield residents should take steps to reduce their exposure to antimony as it is not an essential metal for normal body function, so it makes sense to keep intake to a minimum.

The report recommended a series of actions to reduce exposure to antimony and found that a more detailed investigation was needed to fully assess the sources and significance of elevated levels of antimony.

Elevated levels of antimony were found in soils around tested properties.

This was expected as high levels of antimony occur naturally in the area and mining activity dating back to the 1860s has further concentrated levels in some areas.

The testing carried out as part of this study was limited but showed that levels of fine particles, including those carrying antimony, were well below health guidelines.

Levels of antimony in the water tanks tested were elevated, in many cases well above the level set in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG).

It is not recommended that tank water above the ADWG level for antimony be used for drinking or food preparation. Babies and young children living in the Costerfield area should not drink water containing detectable antimony.

Despite the elevated levels in the rainwater tanks, the report found the estimated daily intake levels of residents at most Costerfield properties were well below safe limits set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Where these levels were exceeded, there was no immediate health risk.

No long or short term health effects are likely as long as daily intake levels are not exceeded over a lifetime.

Steps should be taken to reduce exposure to antimony as it is not an essential metal for normal body function, so it makes sense to keep intake to a minimum.

The mine operator, Mandalay Resources is providing bottled water to households and residents have been advised to continue to use this until their tanks are cleaned and refilled.

Does the report show that the high antimony levels are from dust from the mine?

This report found that more work is needed to determine the sources of elevated antimony at properties around Costerfield.

Additional work has been commissioned to more fully understand the sources of antimony in the community and its significance.

High levels of antimony occur naturally in the area and mining activity dating back to the 1860s has further concentrated levels in some areas.

Dust from the mine could be a possible source of antimony and that is why we acted quickly to direct the mine to improve dust suppression.

We immediately issued directions to the mine for dust suppression measures which are now in place and working well.

More recently, we issued the mine with further directions to reduce the potential for antimony to leave its site.

Babies and young children swallow more dust and soil than older children and adults.

This is because they get dust or soil on their hands when they crawl or play on the ground, which is swallowed when they put fingers or toys in their mouths.

As babies and young children swallow more dust and soil than adults they can swallow more antimony too.

This is why it is important to limit dust and soil exposure and to minimise other sources of intake such as antimony in drinking water.

At nine properties the daily intake levels indicated higher than tolerable levels for babies or young children based on ingestion of 100 mg of soil and 1 litre of water per day over a lifetime.

However there are currently no children residing in these properties and once exposure suppression measures are in place antimony levels will be significantly reduced and any risk to children will be minimal.

No long or short term health effects are likely if daily intake levels are not exceeded over a lifetime.

No. People are not being advised to leave their homes as it is not necessary, but rather are advised to take steps to reduce their personal exposure to antimony.

Health and safety

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Elevated antimony in urine is a marker of exposure, not human health impact. Urine levels can be elevated and still not result in immediate human health effects.

The Department of Health has not seen urine antimony levels that indicate an immediate health concern.

The Government understands that Mandalay Resources, the mine operator, carries out testing of employees. The results of this testing is confidential and any questions about the safety of mine workers must be answered by the mine operator.

Any workers who are concerned about exposure in the workplace should contact Worksafe Victoria advisory service in the first instance by calling toll free 1800 136 089 or (03) 9641 1444 or email: info@worksafe.vic.gov.au.

Further monitoring and testing will be undertaken and additional work is being commissioned to more fully understand the sources of antimony in the community and to recommend further actions.

The department along with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environment Protection Authority are now working on the scope for this further work.

This will inform any ongoing measures that may be required to manage levels of antimony in water and dust and soil exposure and whether further water tank and roof cleaning will be required.

The Victorian Government will continue to provide updated information for Costerfield residents as it becomes available.

Reducing exposure to antimony

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There are a number of steps people can take to reduce exposure to antimony.

Drinking and bathing:

  • Only drink, prepare and wash food (especially home-grown fruit and vegetables) or clean teeth with water that complies with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.
  • Ensure babies and children do not drink water containing any antimony.
  • It is safe to use tank water containing antimony for bathing and showering.

In the garden:

  • Do not let children play on bare soil containing high levels of antimony, especially babies and young children. The soil and dust can stick to their hands and toys and can be swallowed when they put their fingers and things in their mouths.
  • Purchase clean sand for your child’s sand pit.
  • Use clean fill for landscaping works.
  • Cover bare soil with mulch or plants that provide ground cover to minimise dust.

Around the home:

  • Mop and dust frequently. Mopping and dusting should be done with a damp cloth.
  • Put mats at the front and back doors to prevent soil being walked through the house.
  • Leave shoes and heavily soiled clothes outside, where possible.
  • Wash your hands before eating and sleeping.
  • Wash young children’s hands frequently, especially after playing outside.
  • Wash children’s toys to remove soil and dust.

Representatives of the department, Department of Health and the independent consultant who undertook the review, visited each home where testing occurred and provided further advice on appropriate strategies for individual households to minimise exposure to antimony.

Government agencies will undertake further monitoring and testing and will commission additional work to more fully understand the sources of antimony in the community and to recommend further actions.

The department along with other agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services and Environment Protection Authority are now working on the scope for this further work.

This will inform any ongoing measures that may be required to manage levels of antimony in water and dust and soil exposure and whether further water tank and roof cleaning will be required.

The department and other government agencies will continue to provide updated information for Costerfield residents as it becomes available.

Mandalay Resources has offered to clean and refill water tanks, clean roofs and guttering and install a first flush diverter at households within three kilometres of the mine.

Households should contact Mandalay’s Environment and Community Adviser, Tracey Brown on (03) 5431 0400 to arrange this.

Regulation of the Costerfield mine

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We are responsible for regulation of the Mandalay Resources Costerfield mine.

Victoria’s mining laws and regulations provide strong protections for local communities and environments where mining takes place.

We took immediate action in March 2014 to reduce dust from the mine, issuing directions to the mine for dust suppression measures which are now in place and working well.

As precaution, we directed the mine operator to:

  • Upgrade dust and ground water management  and monitoring and to reduce potential pathways of antimony from its site into the environment.
  • Report air quality results from permanently installed sophisticated real time air quality monitoring to ensure that dust from the mine does not exceed allowable levels in the future.
  • Turn off the misting sprayers at its evaporation ponds to prevent any chance of spray leaving the site.
  • Stop using groundwater from the mine to spray its haulage roads, as the groundwater has elevated levels of antimony.

Victoria’s mining laws and regulations provide strong protections for the environment and local communities.

All mines operate to approved work plans that require them to mitigate impacts on the environment and engage with local communities.

All mines have an environment plan that requires them to carry out monitoring of things like dust, noise and water and to report back to the department.

Mine inspectors regularly visit the Costerfield mine to make sure that they are complying with their work plans and with Victoria’s strict mining laws and regulations.

Our mine inspectors have visited the mine at Costerfield more than 20 times and carried out two audits of the mine’s practices in the past two years.

Animal health and safety

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Antimony is likely to be widely distributed in Victorian soils. Animals could be exposed to background levels of antimony on a daily basis during consumption of soil, water and pasture.

Background levels of antimony in the Victorian environment are not known to impact on animal health.

Livestock in the Costerfield area are not likely to be exposed to antimony levels high enough to cause either acute or chronic toxicity.

Furthermore, according to scientific literature, there is no report of toxicity in livestock caused by antimony.

Yes, sheep may be sold. The accompanying National Vendor Declaration form simply needs to be completed as appropriate.

There is no evidence that dogs and cats in the vicinity of the Costerfield mine are at risk.

Page last updated: 13 May 2019