A recent study has established a link between the poor academic performance of primary school children and their level of exposure to environmental contaminants or mining chemicals such as lead and arsenic.
According to researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney, children staying in the mining area of New South Wales were twice as likely to have issues with two or more areas of development.
During the study, the research team compared the academic performance of children studying in areas with high and lower levels of environmental contamination, with a focus on the Broken Hill area in NSW.
The team found that children who scored less in the National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy, or NAPLAN, stayed in areas with high amounts of cadmium, lead and arsenic in air and soil. On the other hand, children with better grades stayed in or went to school in an area with comparatively less environmental contamination.
To assess the different levels of contamination, the team collected soil samples from six areas within Broken Hill. In addition, the team took note of air pollution levels within these identified areas. The resulting data for environmental contamination was analysed against the school performance of the children.
To arrive at a conclusion, the research team also considered data from the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC). The nationwide survey takes note of the physical well being and overall health of first year students.
"The combination of AEDC, NAPLAN and environmental data imply strongly that metal contamination of the urban environment is a likely contributing factor for blood lead exposures and, consequently, educational outcomes, even after accounting for standard social and economic factors," said study co-author Mark Taylor, in a statement.
Broken Hill has the world's richest deposits of zinc and lead ore. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of the children in the area, aged less than four years, have blood lead levels greater than the recommended level of five micrograms per decilitre.
Similar research findings in the mining towns of Queensland, South Australia and Mount Isa has led Taylor to call for pollution regulations to be reviewed by the authorities. The researcher said that the study results clearly show that current regulations are inadequate and must be amended to mitigate the effect of environmental contamination in the mining areas.