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Higher average blood lead levels in wider research area around Umicore in Hoboken

Regional website Belgium

Umicore reaches out to stakeholders for broad independent study  

The Provincial Institute of Hygiene (PIH) today announced the results of six-monthly blood lead measurements among children living near the Umicore site in Hoboken. Until earlier this year, the blood tests were carried out on children living in the adjacent neighborhoods of Moretusburg and Hertogvelden. Now for the first time, the blood tests took place in a wider area northeast of the site and thus with a higher number of children. 

Among the children in Moretusburg and Hertogvelden, where the tests took place throughout all previous years, the average blood lead level was 3.85 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dl), exceeding 2.07 µg/dl in spring 2023, which was the lowest level ever measured in those neighborhoods. In the study area added this autumn, the average was 3.2 µg/dl, and in the area as a whole, 3.45 µg/dl. A total of 287 children participated, of which 10 children had lead levels above 10 µg/dl, and one child had lead levels above 20 μg/dl. 

"To us, the results of this first comprehensive blood lead study are disappointing, worrying and inexplicable. They do not square with the data from the fallout dust that both Umicore and the Flemish Environment Society have been measuring and analyzing at and around the site for years. Nor do they match our sustained environmental efforts that have consistently reduced emissions further within legal norms and the overall downward trend in blood lead results that translated into the lowest ever measured value this spring.

We are reaching out to various stakeholders in this complex matter to work with authorities and experts in setting up a study for this wider area and involve data beyond just our data on our site. Once again, we are committed, together with the prevention worker, to assist the parents of the children with elevated values with the necessary support." 

Johan Ramharter, director of Umicore's Hoboken site

The prevention worker is in touch with families with children with blood lead levels higher than 4µg/l. Families whose children have elevated levels can call on Umicore to have their homes tested for possible lead sources free of charge. Umicore funds a childcare offer during school holidays and environmental and health measures in schools and childcare centers.

Extension of screening perimeter  

Umicore has been asking for more children to be tested by expanding the survey area and measuring beyond Moretusburg and Hertogvelden. Only through more measuring can we get a clearer picture and prevent increases from going undetected. As participation in the biannual blood lead tests is voluntary, both the composition of children and the number who participate vary. As a result, an accurate comparison cannot be made, as would be the case when the same group of children participates in a blood test several times and so determine whether there is an improvement over time. In addition, the number of children examined in the former study area decreased due to the future green zone and associated relocations. The current extension to Visputten, Kapelstraat and Vinkevelden provides more data. 

Evolution of average lead levels in μg/dl in children in the districts Moretusburg and Hertogvelden since the measurement campaign in 2000 

Source of both images – Provincial Institute for Hygiene (PIH) 

Media Relations

Caroline Jacobs

Caroline Jacobs

Media Relations Manager
T: +32 2 227 7129