SYDNEY, June 3 -- An increase in the amount of lead found in children's blood near Belgian-based Nyrstar NL's (NYR.BT) Point Pirie lead and zinc smelter in South Australia state isn't expected to impact on the smelter's production levels, its Managing Director Glenn Poynter said Thursday.
Poynter, however, said the smelter is due to shut for planned maintenance in July for "a couple of weeks".
Figures released Wednesday by South Australian authorities showed that in the 2010 first quarter, 43.4% cent of Port Pirie children aged under four had lead in their blood above the World Health Organisation's official level of concern of 10 micrograms a decilitre of blood.
That's an increases from 31.5% recorded in the 2009 first quarter.
It was also found that 7.6% cent of children had blood lead levels of more than 20 micrograms a decilitre in the March quarter, up from 4.7% a year ago.
Poynter said mechanical problems with a part of the smelter in the first quarter caused it to produce a lower quality product.
"That can impact the blast furnace and cause more emissions from the blast furnace," he said, adding that it also means more material has to be moved by truck, possibly causing more lead to move into the atmosphere.
Child blood levels are still below the levels recorded back in 2005, when a joint project to reduce lead in the atmosphere between Nyrstar and local authorities commenced, the South Australian government said Wednesday.
Still, Environment Minister Paul Caica said there is "extreme concern" about the lead levels.
The state's environmental protection authority is "rightly demanding an explanation of the significantly higher airborne emissions that occurred late last year and a demonstration of what is being done to prevent this happening again," Caica said.
Poynter said Nyrstar is taking steps to try to ensure such high lead levels don't enter the atmosphere again.
"We should always be aiming to prevent that happening and the way to do that is to focus on getting the best quality of product out of the plant," Poynter said.
"We have taken and will be taking more steps to address the issue."
Nyrstar was created in 2007 through the merger of the smelting assets of Melbourne-based Zinifex with Belgium company Umicore.
Port Pirie has site capacity of about 235,000 metric tons of refined lead and lead alloys, 16 million troy ounces of refined silver and about 45,000 tons of zinc, according to Nyrstar's website.