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Average blood lead levels continue their decline near Umicore site in Hoboken

Regional website Belgium

The Provincial Institute of Hygiene (PIH) today announced the results of its six-monthly measurements of lead in blood among children living near the Umicore site in Hoboken. The average blood lead level of the children in the Moretusburg and Hertogvelden neighborhoods continued to fall, after reaching its lowest-ever level in the previous measurement in autumn 2022.

The average lead-in-blood value of the 123 children who were tested fell to 2.07 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dl) in spring 2023, the best result ever, from 2.25 µg/dl in autumn 2022. In the autumn of 2022, no child had a lead level of more than 10 µg/dl. This spring, one child in the district did record such a value. In the most recent measurement, there are 10 children with a value above 4µg/dl. The district nurse will contact the families with children with lead-in blood values higher than 4µg/dl. In addition, families whose children have elevated values can call on Umicore to examine their homes for possible lead sources.

"These results are another milestone. We are pleased that our commitment and recurring annual investment of some €25 million in environmental measures to reduce dust spreading has translated into a further decrease in six-monthly lead-in-blood results."

Johan Ramharter, director of Umicore's Hoboken site

"The future green zone creates distance between the site and the adjacent neighborhood. This distance, the on-going departure of children from the zone closest to the site and the continuation of improvement measures at the site are expected to contribute to a further decrease in average lead-in-blood levels in the coming years. Also, as there will be no more children living right next to the site, it remains important for Umicore in Hoboken to monitor lead-in-blood levels. We, therefore, welcome the City of Antwerp's decision to expand the screening area from the autumn onwards, enabling the reliable analysis and comparison of data," said Johan Ramharter.

Continued investments to sustain falling lead-in-blood trend

The Umicore site in Hoboken has continued to take measures against the build-up and spread of metal-containing dust resulting from logistics and production activities at its plant site. For instance, the site recently completed the installation of windscreens 220 meters long and six meters high along the river Scheldt. In addition, the preparation of the green zone of about 5 hectares adjacent to the site has started. The first 17 houses, out of a total of 186, were demolished in May. Umicore acquired these houses in recent years and will vegetate the land to create distance between the site and the adjacent neighborhood. Lead-in-blood measurements on children aged 1-12 years in Zone 1 and 2, systematically show that children living closest to the factory site have higher values than those living further away. As expected, the remaining houses will be demolished as from autumn 2023 and the green zone will be fully landscaped during 2024, adjacent to one hectare of forest on the Umicore site.

Table lead-in blood measurements

The PIH voluntarily conducts lead-in-blood testing of children aged 1 to 12 years semi-annually in the Moretusburg and Hertogvelden neighborhoods. As a result, the composition and number of participating children varies each time. The number of participating children is decreasing partly due to the fact that quite a few families with young children have moved away after accepting Umicore's offer to buy their homes. Survey results are available on the PIH website.

Table data taken from the PIH's semi-annual lead-in blood surveys.

Lead in blood June 2021 December 2021 June 2022 December 2022 June 2023
Average µg/dl* 3.42 2.91 3.03 2.25 2.07
Nr of children with >4 µg/dl 78 47 30 8 10
Nr of children with >10 µg/dl 5 4 – of which 1 child with >20 µg/dl 3 0 1
Nr of tested children out of the number of children living in Moretusburg / Hertogvelden 261 out of 406 232 out of  361 177 out of  331  127 out of  270 123 out of  245

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