The Northern Territory government, following the reshuffle, has declined to investigate the health concerns related to the remote manganese mine that played a pivotal role in the resignation of former Chief Minister Natasha Fyles last month.

Key points:

• The initial concerns about dust, raised by a remote teacher, have been communicated to the new NT government.

• The NT Health Department asserts that no immediate action is necessary.

• The CLP, too, has rejected the idea of conducting manganese health testing on Groote Eylandt.

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

On Groote Eylandt, situated off Arnhem Land, Indigenous communities have coexisted with manganese dust from the substantial Gemco mine operated by South32. The fine black dust covers roads, and vehicles, and infiltrates homes. Three years ago, music teacher Jeff Aschmann discovered that the Anindilyakwa Land Council had commissioned manganese exposure testing, revealing “concerningly high” levels in the nails and hair of Indigenous residents.

“We need to address this seriously; without a proper assessment, we won’t take it seriously,” emphasized Mr. Aschmann. Despite the mine’s 50-year operation, concerns persist about health guidelines and ongoing complaints.

In December, Ms. Fyles resigned after undisclosed shares in South32 were revealed, raising conflict of interest concerns. Her decision not to investigate the health impacts of the mine’s dust particles in 2023, while serving as chief minister and health minister, was cited as a mistake.

The World Health Organization warns of respiratory and brain function damage from inhaling even low levels of manganese, with effects such as “manganese madness” including loss of movement, coordination, nervousness, irritability, aggression, and destructiveness.

South32 informed the ABC that it has dust mitigation measures, including road spraying, with only “limited” exceedance of mine dust guidelines. The company is in discussions with the NT government and the Anindilyakwa Land Council for additional dust studies on Eylandt. South32 emphasizes the importance of the health of everyone on Groote Eylandt and maintains a robust dust management program.

The Anindilyakwa Land Council halted testing, citing the potential natural occurrence of manganese in soil or water, collaborating with the miners to find more ways to suppress dust.

Calls for health assessments on Groote Eylandt have been renewed, with Mr. Aschmann urging the newly reorganized NT government to take action. He has reached out to Minister of Health Selena Uibo, requesting an immediate evaluation of the well-being of the Aboriginal community on Groote Eylandt, which falls within her Arnhem electorate. Expressing concern about the proximity of the Angurugu community to the mine, he emphasized the need for an examination of its potential impact.

ABC inquired with Minister Uibo about ordering tests, but she deferred the question to the NT Health Department. The department stated that the mine had a dust mitigation strategy in place, and currently, no additional measures were deemed necessary. It mentioned seeking input from researchers to determine if any studies were needed to assess potential adverse health effects from manganese exposure to dust.

NT Chief Minister Eva Lawler delegated the decision on any action to the Health Minister, acknowledging the long-standing presence of the mine while emphasizing the importance of ensuring the safety and health of Territorians.

When questioned about health testing in the event of her government being elected, Opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro did not commit to it but pledged to scrutinize Natasha Fyles’s decision. She assured a future CLP government would review the decision on its merits, expressing concerns about Territorians’ health and the need to restore certainty.

Mr. Aschmann voiced worries that both political parties might prioritize political considerations over the well-being of Indigenous people in addressing the testing near the mine. Emphasizing the issue’s non-partisan nature, he stressed the importance of gathering more information and enhancing mitigation efforts for the well-being of the Aboriginal population on Groote Eylandt, asserting that the outcomes over the past 57 years have been unacceptable and not in the best interests of any political party.


Size matters in new worker tests for dust lung diseases

Despite the implementation of a ban on engineered stone this year, substantial concerns persist regarding the respiratory well-being of workers across various industries. On Tuesday, experts highlighted that existing testing methods solely consider particle weight, neglecting the potential significance of size and shape in determining safety.

A testing approach devised by the University of Queensland has emerged as a promising solution, aiming to identify a broader spectrum of potentially harmful materials. This innovative method offers enhanced protection to workers in industries like mining and construction, reducing the risk of diseases such as black lung and silicosis.

The decision to prohibit engineered stone in Australia from July stemmed from a considerable number of workers contracting the incurable lung disease silicosis. Lead researcher Nikky LaBranche, representing the University’s Sustainable Minerals Institute, emphasized the need for a fresh scientific approach due to the rising prevalence of dust-related lung diseases, especially among young Australians.

Ms. LaBranche explained that the current exposure monitoring for dust and silica relies solely on particle weight, overlooking crucial details with significant health implications. The research team employs a specialized electron microscope, known as a Mineral Liberation Analyser, to conduct a comprehensive analysis of particle size, shape, mineral composition, and their potential to aggregate.

Highlighting the importance of this method, Ms. LaBranche underscored that lighter and smaller particles pose a greater inhalation risk, a factor often disregarded in conventional weight-based testing. Additionally, the team observed differences in the mineralogy of dust at sizes small enough to enter the lungs, emphasizing the need for a more nuanced testing approach.

The University is currently collaborating with several mine operators for on-site testing and encourages other entities in similar industries to reach out for participation.



Dust suppression is a critical issue in the world of mining and resources.

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