Page last updated at 04:59 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 05:59 UK

Australia 'uranium' dust concerns

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and North Sydney Olympic pool are seen on 23 September 2009
People across NSW and Queensland awoke last week to a Mars like scene

Environmentalists have raised concerns that another giant dust storm blowing its way across eastern Australia may contain radioactive particles.

It is argued that sediment whipped up from Australia's centre may be laced with material from a uranium mine.

Scientists have played down concerns, saying there is little to worry about.

Last Wednesday Sydney and Brisbane bore witness to their biggest dust storm in 70 years. Both were shrouded in red dust blown in from the desert outback.

The massive clouds of dust that choked heavily populated parts of Australia have caused problems for people with asthma, as well as those with heart and lung conditions.


"I thought the whole city was on fire, it was just so red"

But some environmental campaigners believe that the dry, metallic-tasting sediment could threaten the health of millions of other Australians.

David Bradbury, a renowned filmmaker and activist, claims the haze that engulfed some of the country's biggest cities in the past week contains radioactive grains - or tailings - carried on gale force winds from a mine in the South Australian desert.

"Given the dust storms... which [the] news said originated from Woomera, and which is right next door to the Olympic Dam mine at Roxby Downs, these [storms] could blow those tailings across the face of Australia," Mr Bradbury asserted.

Mining companies have stressed that dust levels are carefully monitored, while the health concerns have been dismissed by a senior environmental toxicologist.

Barry Noller from the University of Queensland says that many of the particles from mines in the outback are simply too heavy to be carried by the wind over long distances.

"In a big dust storm, the dust is not going to come from one isolated site, it is going to be mixed in with dust from a [wide] area and diluted considerably," Mr Noller said.

The latest murky haze that spread over parts of Queensland at the weekend is dissipating and weather forecasters say it should soon start to move out to sea.

How the initial dust storm spread
Storm infographic
A cold front combined with strong winds whipped up topsoil from the dried-out Lake Eyre basin and swept across New South Wales spreading about 600km along the east coast

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