Government Media Statement
15 April 2010

Dr Roscoe Taylor
Director of Public Health

Experts Rule Out Heavy Metal Poisoning at Rosebery

The Director of Public Health, Dr Roscoe Taylor, today confirmed that independent reviews by national experts in clinical toxicology had found no evidence to support claims of heavy metal poisoning in 10 current and former residents of Rosebery.

Dr Taylor said he had provided Professor George Braitberg and Professor Frank Daly with all available information including clinical histories and examination findings from a range of clinicians involved in the care of the 10 patients who had been diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning.

“Professor Braitberg and Professor Daly are pre-eminent, practising clinical toxicologists in Australia and their findings should provide reassurance to the individuals concerned and the Rosebery community,” Dr Taylor said.

Professor Braitberg is Consultant Toxicologist and Director of Emergency Medicine at Southern Health – including Monash Medical Centre – in Victoria, as well as Professor of Emergency Medicine at Monash University.

Professor Daly is Consultant Clinical Toxicologist at Royal Perth Hospital and the West Australian and New South Wales Poisons Information Centres, as well as Professor of Emergency Medicine and Clinical Toxicology at the WA Institute for Medical Research.

Professor Braitberg and Professor Daly were asked separately to review documents including:
Files containing doctors’ correspondence, examination and investigation results for 10 patients – all current or former residents of Rosebery;
A presentation by Dr Andreas Ernst, who made the diagnoses;
Previous investigations into heavy metals exposure in the Rosebery environment, including blood lead testing of residents;
The previous toxicology advice from the Director of the Australian Centre for Human Health Risk Assessment, Professor Brian Priestly.

“The advice from both Professor Braitberg and Professor Daly is quite categoric,” Dr Taylor said.

Professor Braitberg has advised: ‘I cannot agree with the conclusions of Dr Ernst that each of the patients has signs and symptoms due to heavy metal poisoning.

‘I find no evidence of heavy metal poisoning in any of the 10 patients.

‘There are no patients with “toxic levels” either in blood or in urine.

‘I believe it is in the best interests of these patients to continue to seek medical assistance to determine the cause of their symptoms.’

Professor Daly has advised: ‘There is no evidence in any of the documents provided that any of the patients have sustained sufficient environmental exposures to internalize a dose of any metal so as to cause poisoning or adverse health effects.

‘None of the patients meet diagnostic criteria for poisoning or adverse health effects by any of the heavy metals, in isolation or in combination.

‘None of the patients in Rosebery have documented evidence of a significant exposure to arsenic, lead, chromium or cadmium.

‘There is no epidemiological evidence in the peer review literature to support the general hypotheses of synergistic effects in humans exposed to arsenic, cadmium, chromium or lead in an occupational or environmental setting at what would normally be regarded as sub-toxic levels.’

Dr Taylor said the findings of Professor Braitberg and Professor Daly had been discussed with Dr Ernst and – to the best of his knowledge – with each of the 10 patients through their GPs.

All had been encouraged to continue to work with their treating doctor to identify the causes of the various health symptoms they had reported.

“While the independent clinical experts have not been able to verify the diagnosis of heavy metal poisoning in any of these patients, we are in no way dismissing the health problems that have been reported.

“It is very important that they continue to work with their doctors to identify the real causes so that they can get back on the road to recovery.

“For example, I understand from Dr Ernst that one of the patients reporting a skin problem has now had this properly investigated and diagnosed.”

Dr Taylor said that he had hoped to discuss the general findings with the newly formed community reference group before reporting to the media but the release of the findings by the Heavy Metals Task Force meant that was not possible.

De-identified summary results have been provided to members of the Reference Group this afternoon and the implications will be discussed at the next meeting of the Reference Group.

Dr Taylor said Public Health advice to Rosebery residents about how to avoid exposure to heavy metals was unchanged. This includes:

Frequently wash your own and children’s hands especially before eating;
Regularly wash family pets and toys;
Try not to track dirt or mud into the house on shoes;
Try not to let pets track dirt or into the house;
Regularly wash or wet-mop floors, stairs, and window sills to reduce any dust that may have tracked indoors;
Vacuum walls, soft furnishings and carpets regularly. Remember to place dust in the garbage not in the garden;
Use clean topsoil in raised garden beds for vegetable growing
Wash fruit and vegetables (especially if home grown) before cooking and eating;
Discourage adults and children from nail biting;
Do not drink tankwater or use in cooking or for making up baby formula; and
Keep pets well hydrated and don’t let them drink any seepage/exposed groundwater.
Dr Roscoe Taylor Director of Public Health