31 May 2019 Bulletin

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SodiIsophorone is an α,β-unsaturated cyclic ketone with the chemical formula C9H14O. [1] It is a clear liquid with a peppermint-like odour. Isophorone evaporates faster than water but slower than charcoal starter or paint thinner, and it will not mix completely with water. Isophorone is a manmade chemical for use commercially, but it has been found to occur naturally in cranberries. [2]

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British Safety Council Calls for UK to Recognise Air Pollution as Occupational Health Hazard

The British Safety Council has recently released the report Impact of air pollution on the health of outdoor workers, which argues that ambient air pollution should be recognised as an occupational health hazard in Britain. The report is part of the charity’s campaign to limit the hazards that air pollution poses to the health of outdoor workers. According to the BSC, air pollution is considered the largest environmental risk to public health, connected with as many as 36,000 early deaths annually in the United Kingdom. Ambient air pollution can be linked to cancer, lung and heart disease, type 2 diabetes, infertility, and early dementia, the organisation said. BSC launched its Time to Breathe campaign, focused on the protection of outdoor workers from air pollution, in March 2019. This report is the next step in the campaign, gathering evidence about the causes and consequences of air pollution in Britain. In the report, the British Safety Council calls for the following measures:

  • The UK to adopt the World Health Organization’s exposure limits for the main pollutants;
  • Government action to ensure ambient air pollution is treated as an occupational health issue and adopt a Workplace Exposure Limit for Diesel Engine Exhaust Emissions (DEEE);
  • Improvements to pollution monitoring across the UK, so that all regions can have the same accuracy in emissions data as London;
  • Recognition that protection from the dangers of air pollution should be enshrined in law as a human right.

“The impact of air pollution on people working in large cities is starting to be recognised as a major public health risk. However, we are yet to see any true commitment to addressing this issue by the government and the regulators,” said Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council. “The Time to Breathe campaign, together with our recent report, is a call to action for policymakers, regulators and industry leaders. The social and economic implications of ambient air pollution are clear. It must be recognized as an occupational health hazard, much like some toxic substances such as asbestos. Breathing clean air is not a privilege but a basic human right for the thousands of people who are undertaking vital work outdoors.” The report can be read here.


Cobalt for 500,000 electric cars could be harvested from the oceans

Strings of plastic balls dangled in the ocean could harvest enough cobalt for hundreds of thousands of electric car batteries. The heavy metal is a key battery ingredient, but onshore reserves are running low. So, engineers in the US want to mine it from brine. Maha Haji and Alexander Slocum at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say the system could catch enough dissolved cobalt from seawater each year to make a battery for every Tesla Model 3 that has rolled off the production line so far. In total, repurposing 76 unused oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico could produce enough cobalt for half a million electric vehicle batteries. Growth in sales of electric cars mean global demand for cobalt could outstrip supply for the first-time next year, according to Europe’s Joint Research Centre. However, seawater swims with dissolved minerals and the world’s oceans carry about 500 million tonnes of cobalt, dwarfing the 7 million tonnes in known reserves on land. The proposal would be to fill plastic spheres, each about the size of a beach ball and riddled with holes, with absorbent materials and strap them to long ropes immersed in the ocean. The absorbent materials, such as algae or lemon peel, would bind with the dissolved cobalt more than other minerals and pull it from solution. Every few weeks the chains of balls would be dragged back in to collect the cobalt they soak up. The technique has already been used in lab tests to harvest uranium. Cobalt is a stiffer challenge because its concentration in seawater is about eight times lower. The study does not tackle the economics and whether the process could be made cheap enough to be carried out on a large scale. However, one way to reduce costs could be to use waste materials, such as recycled plastic bottles to make the balls. The team says further studies would be needed to assess the environmental impact.


Gold thief suffering ‘memory loss and anxiety’ after mercury exposure jailed

A 28-year-old West Australian man who processed stolen gold in his grandmother’s shed using the toxic chemical mercury has been jailed for 15 months. The lawyer for Joshua Luke Cross claimed his client has suffered cognitive impairment because of the mercury exposure, including memory loss and increased anxiety. The former building contractor was sentenced recently after breaking into the Burbanks mill near the historic gold mining town of Coolgardie, about 550 kilometres east of Perth, on three separate occasions in December. The Kalgoorlie Magistrate’s Court heard Cross was the getaway driver on each occasion. An unknown co-accused used a hammer drill to dig up concrete flooring which contained specks of gold, before processing it and selling it for about $19,000. At one point, they used a vacuum cleaner to collect gold fragments as they chipped away at the concrete. Cross pleaded guilty to 10 charges in all, including three counts of aggravated burglary, three counts of stealing and one count of trespassing. The burglary charge could have attracted a maximum penalty of three years’ jail, or a $36,000 fine.

Burglaries involved ‘degree of planning’
During sentencing, Magistrate Adam Hills-Wright said the burglaries were “sophisticated”, involved “dangerous chemicals”, and sat at the “serious” end of the spectrum. He noted Cross had “sinister intentions” because he had a balaclava on the front seat of his vehicle and had taped over the interior light. “Clearly it involved some degree of planning and involved forced entry at night,” the magistrate said. “You did not wield the tools but found yourself in company with those who did.” Cross personally sold gold to a Kalgoorlie buyer worth about $4,000, $3,000 and $9,000 on three separate occasions. Police found receipts for the transactions during a search of a South Kalgoorlie property. Mr Hills-Wright said the money has not been returned.

Mercury exposure can cause cognitive impacts
Mercury is considered by the World Health Organisation to be one of the top 10 chemicals of major public health concern, and there is evidence to show it has caused cognitive impacts in children. Cross’ lawyer Kim Samiotis told the court her client has high levels of mercury in his blood and needs specialist treatment in Perth, which she said he would be unlikely to receive in custody. She tabled medical records in court which showed readings of 169 nanomoles per litre of blood in January, compared with the standard of 0-50. “He’s suffered from anxiety and memory loss,” Ms Samiotis said. “His family noticed a substantial change in behaviour at the time of the offences. “He very likely wasn’t thinking quite clearly … he’s had impaired cognition as a result of mercury exposure.”

Gold processing to ‘supplement Centrelink’
Ms Samiotis said Cross assisted the co-accused by driving them to the mill and processing the gold. She said he supplements his Centrelink income by processing gold in his grandmother’s house for a friend with a legitimate prospecting lease. She said he received stolen tools as proceeds and the rest of the money was passed onto the co-accused. The court heard Cross has had a methylamphetamine addiction in the past and was jailed in 2016 for prior burglary and stalking offences. Mr Hills-Wright said his extensive criminal record was “relevant” in his decision to impose a jail term, particularly after Cross was ruled “unsuitable” for a supervision order. “It was quite a risk in terms of your own health and the exposure to criminal law for some tools,” he said. Cross will be eligible for parole.

Gold mines a ‘soft target’ for thieves
The owners of the Burbanks mill, ASX-listed Maximus Resources, announced earlier this month they have agreed to sell the plant for $5.8 million to Perth-based private company Adaman Resources. The plant had been shut down during the period it was targeted by the thieves. Mr Hills-Wright said he has dealt with several gold stealing cases in recent times. “Mines sites can be a soft target, particularly gold mines, because they are so isolated,” he said. “It is notoriously difficult to adequately police and protect them because of their size and remote location.


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