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Particulates, metals and human exposure in Port Hedland

Researchers from Edith Cowan University, World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Children’s Environmental Health, and The University of Western Australia are conducting a study investigating children’s exposure to particulates and metals in Port Hedland. Human exposure to metals arising from iron ore dust exposure has not been researched previously, despite the number of locations impacted by this particulate source. The aim of the study is to see how much PM10 children in Port Hedland are exposed to and whether they are also exposed to metals. This research has the potential to benefit mining communities, government agencies, industries, families and the research community. The benefit of the research to participants is both educational and may also provide the opportunity to reduce risks, if they exist. This research will provide important information on whether iron ore dust presents increased health risks to those exposed. This in turn provides an opportunity to address land use planning and emission controls in the Pilbara and other regions affected by this source of exposure.

The research may also benefit the international community by providing an understanding of the role of the composition of particulate matter in potential health effects. It may also show whether iron ore dust increases exposure to metals in individuals who have been exposed to particulate matter.

Particulate Matter (Dust)

Dust is a common term used to describe types of particulate matter. There are many different sources of particulate matter. It is most commonly associated with high traffic areas, bushfire smoke and industrial activity. Particles which are called PM10 are inhaled into the upper part of the lungs while particles which are finer are inhaled deeper into the lungs. Because mining produces mainly course particles, this study will focus on PM10.

Composition of Particles (particulates)

Particles comprise many components depending on the source. In areas like Port Hedland they are predominantly soil based, however they can contain metals and other elements from mining processes.

Why are we investigating PM10 and Metals?

PM10 concentrations in Port Hedland are high. There is however little information available to indicate whether PM10 from iron ore mining results in personal exposure to the dust. If exposure is occurring, we need to know if there an increase in exposure to metals which are associated with the dust. PM 10 has been shown to impact on respiratory and health in other studies, but the source of the PM in these studies has been different. It is important that we determine whether or not children are exposed to PM10 and metals, and if they are then further research may be undertaken to determine whether or not there are health effects arising from this exposure.


We are aiming to recruit 100 children aged between 7 and 12 years from both Port Hedland and South Hedland. Participation in the study is completely voluntary.

What is involved in participating in this study?

Children will at first be asked to wear an active particulate sampler for one 24 hour period. This has a pump and an inlet tube. For ease of wearing the device we will provide a small backpack for the pump to be housed. Children will also be asked to provide a morning urine sample, a small sample of hair and to fill out a questionnaire and an activity diary with the help of their parents.


We will provide all families with their child’s individual results and an overall summary of the findings.


Associate Professor Andrea Hinwood
Dr Anna Callan
The University of Western Australia, Research Assistant Professor Peter Franklin
The University of Western Australia, Associate Professor Jane Heyworth
The University of Queensland/World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Children's Environmental Health, Professor Peter Sly
Mrs Karyn Concanen - ECU Project Coordinator

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