Extra lead-in-blood test in preschool children in wider vicinity of Umicore Hoboken confirms lower levels further away from site
The Provincial Institute for Hygiene (PIH) today announced the results of an additional lead-in-blood test it conducted among 291 toddlers in the wider vicinity of Umicore's Hoboken site. These toddlers live further away than the children from the adjacent Moretusburg and Hertogvelden neighborhoods whose blood the PIH tests every six months. The average measured lead-in-blood value in the preschoolers is 1.74 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dl) and is below the average of 2.36 µg/dl in the preschoolers who participated in the semi-annual lead-in-blood measurement last fall.
These results confirm the findings of the semi-annual, voluntary measurements of children ages 1-12 in Moretusburg and Hertogvelden, which each time show that average lead-in-blood levels are lower as children live farther from the site. Toddlers are also more sensitive to lead intake than older children, in part because of their frequent hand-mouth contact. With that, the results also underscore the importance of the future green zone that Umicore will create in 2024 to create distance between the site and the currently adjacent neighborhood.*
This additional study was commissioned by Umicore and the care and health agency Agentschap Zorg en Gezondheid. Together with a human biomonitoring survey to be conducted later this year among 200 14-15 year olds in the wider vicinity of the site, it is part of a broader effort to gain a thorough understanding, based on as much scientific data as possible, of the potential impact of industrial activities on the wider neighborhood. This allows Umicore to better target which prevention measures are most effective.
"We are pleased that the results of this additional study underpin the relationship between lead-in-blood levels and residential distance from the site. In addition, the study factors in the dust levels in the house and the age of the house. Overall, we again note that children who live close to the site are more exposed to metal emissions from windblown dust than children who live in the wider area and attend school there.
This reinforces our belief that it is essential to increase the distance between industry and the residential core, whereby we regard the green zone as a structural measure for even lower lead-in blood levels,"
Johan Ramharter, Director of Umicore's Hoboken site
"For some time now, we have been spending 25 million euros annually on environmental measures that successfully limit the spread of dust on the site and in the neighborhood and reduce emissions from our processes even further below standard. We remain committed to achieving the best possible outcome," said Johan Ramharter.
The additional survey of preschoolers was organized with the aim of responding to concerns raised by parents of children living outside Moretusburg-Hertogvelden and gaining a more comprehensive picture of the exposure of children outside this neighborhood.
Measurements and findings of the PIH
In the voluntary survey organized by the PIH, 291 preschool children participated. They live outside the district and attend school in Hof Ter Zande, De Regenboog, and De Pluim. Parents were asked to complete a questionnaire about the home situation, lifestyle, and behavior. The report points out that in addition to the distance from the factory site, other factors such as the location of the school and the amount of dust in the home determine lead-in blood levels. Along with the blood test result, parents will receive a leaflet with prevention tips if any of the children have lead levels above 2 µg/dl. Parents with questions can always contact the district worker.
The Hoboken site recycles precious metals and other valuable non-ferrous metals for reuse in automotive catalysts and rechargeable batteries for electric cars. Thanks to continuous improvement measures against the build-up and spread of dust containing lead particles, the lead-in-blood levels of children in the neighborhood are evolving favorably. Direct emissions from operations are systematically below the increasingly stringent standard.
The future green zone of about 5 hectares of forest will create a distance between the factory site and the adjacent neighborhood. The phased and controlled demolition of the sold houses will begin this year. The green zone is expected to be completed in 2024 and will be adjacent to 1 hectare of forest that Umicore created on its site in 2022.
Examples of recent measures include the installation of windbreaks both around the storage sites near the Scheldt, and along the river. In addition, for many years Umicore has been offering to conduct dust analyses of local residents planning to remodel their homes, and remove any dust before the work takes place.