The results of the semi-annual blood lead survey among children in the Hoboken area of Umicore have never been as low as now. Nevertheless, the medical working group of the Provincial Institute for Hygiene (PIH) continues to draw attention to lead exposure. “Continuous monitoring of children and continued commitment to measures remains important to protect their health,” says Vera Nelen of the PIH.
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Twice a year, the PIH performs a lead blood test in children aged 1 to 12 years in the Moretusburg and Hertogvelden districts of Hoboken. Those neighborhoods are closest to the Umicore factory.
The results of the latest study, which was conducted this fall in 127 of the 270 children in the neighborhoods, reach the lowest level since the first study in 1978. The ‘safe’ reference value is 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dl) . The average value is 2.25 micrograms µg/dl and has decreased compared to spring 2022 (then 3.03 µg/dl). No child has been found to have a value higher than 10 μg/dl.
Nevertheless, 1 in 6 children living in the zone closest to the factory still has a value above 4 µg/dl and 3 in 4 a value above 2 µg/dl. “Continuous monitoring of children and continued commitment to measures remains important to protect their health,” says Vera Nelen of the PIH.
The reaction at Umicore is satisfied. “This shows that our measures are having a positive impact,” said Johan Ramharter, director of Umicore’s Hoboken site. “We also continue to invest in environmental measures, 25 million euros per year.”
A decrease was also observed in the control group. “Values are falling in all zones,” says Ramharter. “And with the construction of the green buffer zone right next to our site (Umicore bought up a lot of houses in order to realize them, ed.) we expect even better results.”
PVDA municipal councilor Mie Branders, who is active as a general practitioner for Medicine for the People in Hoboken, is also positive. Although she does question the usefulness of that green buffer. “The low values are also related to the relocation of many children due to the Umicore house purchase,” says Branders.
“The fact that the values in the control group are also falling means that Umicore’s extra efforts are paying off. That is good for the entire population of our district. But buying up one third of Moretusburg was therefore not necessary. It is thanks to technological improvements and the efforts of Umicore’s employees that our children have better values. Not through a green grove that still needs to be planted.”