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Blood lead levels reach lowest average ever in children 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 fell sharply and reached its lowest ever measured value. 

The average value dropped this fall to 2.25 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dl) from 3.03 µg/dl in the spring of 2022. For the first time, no child had a lead value of more than 10 µg/dl. In spring 2022, a lead value above 10 µg/dl was measured in three children.

For the first time in its report, the PIH uses a reference value of 4 µg/dl, compared to the 5 µg/dl it used in past years' reports (see table at the bottom of the press release). Based on this new figure, the number of children with blood lead levels above 4 µg/dl dropped to 6.3% from 16.9% in the spring of 2022. Zone 1 in Moretusburg, right next to the site, remains the most vulnerable: 16.7% of children tested had lead-in-blood levels higher than 4 µg/dl. No comparative percentage is available from the previously published results.

"We are satisfied that blood lead levels in children living near our site continue to decline and this time reached their lowest level ever. We are committed in every way possible to minimize the impact of our activities. For quite some time we have been spending 25 million euros annually on environmental measures that prevent the spread of dust and further reduce emissions from our processes. To this end, we always use state-of-the-art techniques, but also develop our own innovations, which are becoming increasingly important as we reach the limits of what is technologically available and feasible today."

Johan Ramharter, director of Umicore's Hoboken site

"The children living closest to the site, in Zone 1, remain the most vulnerable. This is why putting a distance between the neighborhood and the site with the creation of a green zone is an important, structural and sustainable measure. We will of course remain alert and continue unabated with our improvement projects, since our goal is for every child in the neighborhood to have the lowest possible level. In this way, also after 135 years, we can coexist as a site with respect for the neighborhood," said Johan Ramharter.

The neighborhood nurse contacts the families of all the children tested and assists them with advice.

Efforts to further reduce lead-in-blood levels

The Umicore site in Hoboken is making continuous efforts to combat the blowing up and spreading of metal-containing dust and thereby further reducing lead-in-blood levels. Examples include the installation of windbreaks on the plant site and the construction of the green zone.

The future green zone will provide distance between the industrial site and the adjacent neighborhood. This area will be landscaped with trees after the controlled residential demolition and will be adjacent to a hectare of forest that Umicore planted on its site in the spring. To construct the green zone, Umicore has offered neighboring residents to buy their properties. Construction of the green zone will begin in spring 2023 and is expected to be completed in 2024.

Six-meter-high windbreaks are now in place around the site’s warehouses along the Scheldt River. In addition, wind screens are being placed along the river over a length of 220 meters and a height of six meters. The windbreaks reduce the wind force at the site and as a result, the blowing and spreading of dust on the site and in the neighborhood. The wind force is monitored using the wind barometer, which indicates whether some logistic activities should be postponed or stopped. Since the commissioning of the wind barometer in January 2021, operations have been adjusted 54 times.

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 (in Dutch)

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

Lead in blood June 2021 December 2021  June 2022 December 2022 
Average µg/dl* 3.42 2.91 3.03 2.25
Nr of children in zone 1 living right next to the site with >5 µg/dl 18, out of which 4 >10 µg/dl 14, out of which 0 >10 µg/dl 5, out of which  2 >10 µg/dl 2 out of which 0
> 10 µg/dl
Nr of children with >5 µg/dl 44 27 19 NA**
Nr of children with >4 µg/dl NA** NA** NA** 8
Nr of children with >10 µg/dl 5 4 – of which 1 child with >20 µg/dl 3 0
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

*µg/dl = micrograms per deciliter of blood
**NA = not available

Media Relations

Caroline Jacobs

Caroline Jacobs

Media Relations Manager
T: +32 2 227 7129