Arsenic scare shuts down NT cattle station

James Nason, 13/06/2011

A Northern Territory cattle station and tourist park has been evacuated over the weekend following the release of test results showing high levels of arsenic in long-term residents.

Northern Territory police have asked about 140 residents and visitors to leave the 8100ha Mount Bundy cattle station and camping ground south east of Adelaide River, after the site was declared a Restricted Area by the NT Coroner.

The declaration followed the receipt of test results that confirmed that eight long-term residents of the property had elevated levels of arsenic in their system. 

The coroner's investigation was prompted by the death in May of 17 year old Ben Witham, the son of Mt Bundy station’s owners of five years Scott and Sue Witham. Mr Witham died in an Adelaide hospital in May after falling ill at the property. Arsenic poisoning was reported as a suspected cause.

Darwin Police Commander Kym Davies said the evacuation was a precautionary measure to ensure people's safety and to limit any further potential exposure to the arsenic source.

"People leaving Mount Bundy have been provided with information, telephone numbers and website contacts in case they are concerned that they may have been exposed to arsenic or might be displaying symptoms of arsenic poisoning." 
Northern Territory Chief Health Officer Dr Barbara Paterson said prolonged exposure was usually required to record elevated levels of arsenic. 

"All of the eight people who have recorded elevated arsenic levels have received medical attention and will be offered follow-up attention.” 

Mount Bundy Station will remain closed as authorities work towards locating the source of the arsenic. 

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in the earth's crust and can occur at very low levels in ground/bore water.

Symptoms of arsenic toxicity include numbness, tingling, weakness or pins and needles in the feet and hands, stomach pain or diarrhoea, patchy areas of increased skin pigment, patches of hair loss and mouth ulcers.

NT Police are asking anyone who has visited Mt Bundy Station and is concerned they may have been exposed to an arsenic source to contact the NT Police advisory line on 131 444.  


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