November 21, 2008

Alcoa Welcomes Results of Community Health Survey

Alcoa welcomes a report released today by the Department of Health, which suggests the health status of people living near Wagerup Refinery is similar to that of people from the rest of WA. This is consistent with all of the previous air quality and health risk assessment research, which has shown the refinery to be safe.

The Wagerup and Surrounds Community Health Survey was conducted by the UWA Survey Research Centre and analysed by the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research. In July, August and September 2007 the survey asked residents living near Alcoa’s Wagerup Refinery about subjective symptoms potentially related to chemical exposures and also about a range of chronic health conditions.
 
Dr Michael Donoghue, Chief Medical Officer of Alcoa of Australia said “The symptoms reported in the study are common in all communities. The report suggests slightly more people in the Wagerup area self-report these symptoms compared to the rest of WA. This is not in the least surprising given the amount of concern people have had about environmental and social issues in the area over the last 10 years.”
 
“The report also shows that chronic physical health conditions are no more common close to the refinery than in the rest of WA. There is a higher self-reported prevalence of mental health problems, which is not unexpected as these are known to be more common in rural communities.”
 
With regard to symptoms Dr Donoghue said “It is well known that self-reported symptoms are strongly influenced by environmental and social concerns. Studies have shown people living near industrial facilities elsewhere in the world report more symptoms when they are worried about their environment or when they consider any odour to be annoying.
 
“Experimental studies overseas have shown that people report symptoms when they can smell an exposure, even though the concentration is too low to be harmful - and they report more symptoms when they are given a concerning message about the same exposure. Sustained adverse publicity about Wagerup is likely to have driven this effect.
 
“We know from odour modelling that residents will occasionally smell refinery emissions, but we also know that the concentrations of these emissions are far too low to cause harm.”
 
This has been consistently demonstrated by all of the research on emissions at the Wagerup refinery including the latest state of the art Proton Transfer Reaction Mass Spectrometer (PTRMS) monitoring by CSIRO, which analyses for organic compounds in the air.
 
Dr Donoghue said “Air dispersion modelling and health risk assessments have shown that refinery emissions are no cause for concern.”
 
Kim Horne, Executive Director of Environment Health and Safety at Alcoa of Australia said this report should give residents further confidence, especially given that so much research, including the recently released CSIRO report, has shown local air quality to be similar to that found in other rural Australian environments.
 
Since 1998, Alcoa has spent more than A$54 million on new technologies and other improvements at the refinery to reduce emissions and odour. This has made Wagerup the most environmentally advanced alumina refinery in the world in this regard.

Visit www.alcoa.com.au/healthandwellbeing for more detail on site studies (including the referenced CSIRO study), and www.alcoa.com.au for Alcoa’s economic benefit to WA and its communities.