Strong Foundations – child, family, community and environmental toxins

Ms Emma Nunan1, Ms Hannah Herrmann1

1Environmental Health Centre, Port Pirie, Australia


The Port Pirie Smelter has been operating for over 100 years, leaving a lead legacy for the city. The Environmental Health Centre (EHC) works collaboratively with families to help protect children from the harmful effects of lead in their environment.

In conjunction with the Port Pirie Smelter Transformation in reducing lead exposure within the community, EHC’s service delivery model has changed to actively support pregnant women, children and their families during the first thousand days.
In Port Pirie, blood lead levels typically increase in the first two years of a child’s life. The first thousand days is also a period of rapid brain development. Children’s brains are particularly vulnerable to environmental toxins. “Exposures to substances such as lead that have minimal or no discernible impacts in adults can permanently alter brain development and function in a child” (Centre for Community Child Health, The First Thousand Days, 2017 p. 42).

As a result, early intervention strategies were identified to reduce children’s exposure to lead. A key feature of these strategies is to support families to have access to timely and appropriate prevention services.

A review and service plan proposal was developed utilising the analysis of Port Pirie blood lead levels, Australian Early Development Census and child development knowledge. The Social Work team has refocused on providing intensive early intervention strategies and partnering with pregnant women and children to help promote positive health outcomes within the community of Port Pirie. Early intervention and prevention is the most proactive and efficient way forward.


Emma is the senior social worker at the Environmental Health Centre, she also has a private social work practice. Previously Emma was employed by Families SA and UCWCSA. Emma has been the elected the chair of the Early Childhood Initiatives Group on two occasions; working with an interagency multidisciplinary group to develop plans for development of the Port Pirie community. During Emma’s roles she has engaged intensively with families to alleviate risks and implement client centred case plans; focusing on paediatrics and the dynamics of families.

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