Tasmania’s Department of Health has defended a decision not to test animals for heavy metal poisoning in the west coast town of Rosebery.

Several residents claim that they and their pets have become ill because of high levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead and zinc found seeping in their backyards.

Late last year, a Government-hired toxicologist found there were no dangerous levels of the heavy metals in blood tests or in soil and water samples.

The Toxic Heavy Metals Taskforce says it now has evidence through Freedom of Information documents that the Health Department did not test animals.

Spokeswoman Isla MacGregor says it shows the department relied on veterinarians’ opinions in deciding that poisoning was not an issue for pets.

“They have no evidence themselves, they did not conduct any tests on pets in Rosebery,” she said.

Independent pathology tests arranged by the taskforce found two local cats with arsenic poisoning.

The Deputy Director of Public Health Chrissie Pickin says she is satisfied with the anecdotal evidence received.

“The issue for us was we couldn’t find any empirical evidence that there was a problem, ” she said.

“If we had found that we would have then gone to local vets and requested them to do testing, and we’d have had to get advice about what is the appropriate testing.”

“In general, the vet from the veterinary board we spoke to said you wouldn’t expect mineral poisoning to be an issue for pets it’s much more concerns about mineral deficiencies in areas like that.”

Property fallout

The taskforce is also concerned that property buyers are not being informed about the risks of heavy metal contamination.

Isla MacGregor wants the local council to use a system similar to that in place for the Hobart suburb of Lutana which has suffered contamination from nearby zinc works.

During the conveyancing process, the council issues a certificate which acknowledges a property’s history.

Mrs MacGregor says that system should apply in Rosebery.

“The big problem is that the level of heavy metals contaminants particularly arsenic are absolutely enormous compared to Lutana,” she said.

“The levels in Rosebery are extremely high in many cases, two, three or five times higher.”

West Coast Mayor, Daryl Gerrity, says his council will discuss options to deal with heavy metal contamination problems.

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