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Teenager loses lead lawsuit against mine

A teenager who claimed brain damage she suffered as a baby was caused by lead poisoning from a mine, has lost her lawsuit against the mine’s owner.

Bethany Sanders, 17, launched civil action against Mt Isa Mines Ltd last year, seeking $5 million in damages.

Ms Sanders claimed she suffered severe developmental delays and learning difficulties and as a result of excess lead exposure from the mine as an infant. From mid 2007 to January 2008, her family lived within three kilometres of the mine and smelter in the remote Central Queensland town.

In a 289-page Supreme Court decision published on Friday, Justice Williams found Ms Sanders, represented by her guardian Jim Seeto, had failed to prove her injuries were caused by the miner, which is owned by Swiss multinational resource company Glencore.

Ms Sanders’ case was framed on the basis that her parents Michael Saunders and Sharnelle Seeto were not aware of the risk lead absorption posed to children until they saw an advertisement about it in September 2007.

A subsequent blood test showed Ms Sanders’ blood lead level was high, and her mother was told the child was at serious risk of physical injury unless the level was reduced.

Three months later Ms Sanders’ blood lead level had almost doubled and the family opted to leave Mt Isa to allow her a better chance of recovery.

Ms Sanders argued Mt Isa Mines owed herself and the Mt Isa community a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid a risk of injury that was reasonably foreseeable and not insignificant. That duty contained an obligation to warn parents of the risk of injury to their children.

Mt Isa Mines argued that its emissions did not cause or materially contribute to Ms Sanders’ injuries.

“It is not contentious that the plaintiff’s blood lead levels had substantially increased in the period between the September 2007 and 27 December 2007 test results. What is contentious is the cause of this,” Justice Williams said.

“The evidence of Ms Seeto establishes that the plaintiff was removed from exposure to dirt, and largely to dust, between the September and December 2007 test results.  The December 2007 test results revealed a substantial increase in the plaintiff’s blood lead levels. This logically supports the conclusion that dirt and/or dust was unlikely to be the main source of her blood lead levels as reflected in the September 2007 test results.

“Further, based on the evidence and findings earlier in these reasons, the contribution of the ISA Caused Emissions to the overall level of dirt and dust that was in the plaintiff’s environment was likely to be slight or minimal.”

Justice Williams also found that Ms Sanders’ iron deficiency anaemia was severe enough to have caused significant cognitive impairment.

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