Over 2 years (2005- 2007) Magellan Metals and the Esperance Port Authority allowed lethal lead dust to escape from storage facilities and contaminate the town of Esperance and surrounds. Over 9500 birds died of lead poisoning and hundreds of children suffered lead poisoning from elevated lead levels.
A Western Australian Parliamentary Inquiry found that the Esperance Port Authority and Magellan Metals (and 2 other government agencies) were guilty of "critical failings" in their handling of toxic material in allowing lead carbonate particles to escape during Port operation.
- the ongoing transport to, and inloading practices at, the Esperance Port which occurred almost every second day over some 23 months;
- the escape of lead dust during the usual out loading practices at the Esperance Port, which occurred on 22 occasions; and
- a number of key dust incidents occurring during ship-loading of the Magellan lead concentrate at the Esperance Port, which released significant lead pollution into the environment, and in the absence of any containment or clean up, caused on-going exposures to lead.”
The Esperance Port Authority was fined over half a million dollars after admitting responsibility for the lead poisoning. Magellan Metals escaped without any serious penalty after agreeing to a $9 million settlement to clean up the town. As part of the agreement the State Government agreed not to pursue any criminal or legal charges against the company.
These levels raise serious questions about the effectiveness of the cleanup. A State Government report released earlier this year claimed that three years after the crises the poisonous lead dust still present in the town remained a major threat to bird life and animal life but presented no "serious threat to human health"
Martin Bruckner's remarkable book Under Corporate Skies tells the shocking story of another Western Australian "Sacrifice Zone"- this time the struggle between the community of Wagerup and the multinational mining corporation Alcoa and its ally over three decades- the WA Government. Brueckner tells a story also consigned to the dustbin of Western Australian history. His book describes the the same pattern of denial, protection of mining and industrial interests, collusion by State Government agencies and dismissal and trivialization of community concerns that has been evident in the Esperance scandal.