Health risks of eating contaminated seafood from the Port Pirie River estuary and surrounding waters

Some seafood species from within the Port Pirie restricted areas contains high levels of heavy metals, particularly cadmium and lead. For more information on the restricted areas, see  Fishing around Port Pirie.


Cadmium is released very slowly from the body and can accumulate over time – particularly in the kidneys.

Effects from eating cadmium

People who have eaten or regularly eat food containing cadmium are at risk from cadmium build-up that can contribute to kidney disease, cancer risk, cardiovascular disease and stroke and osteoporosis (low bone density).

People at a higher risk after eating cadmium

People with diabetes, renal disease and older people are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of cadmium.


Lead damages the nervous system as well as harms many other body organs and functions. Unborn babies, infants and young children are most vulnerable because their nervous systems are growing and developing quickly. 

There is no safe level of lead exposure

Current advice from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is that sources of lead exposure should investigated then prevented or reduced when a person has a blood lead level above 5 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL) – particularly if the person is pregnant or a young child.

  • Long-term exposure to levels of lead (above 10 µg/dL blood lead levels) have been linked to damaged nerve and brain function, blood cell production and renal function.
  • Exposure to low levels of lead (between 5-9 µg/dL blood lead levels) has been associated with learning and behaviour problems, reduced IQ and academic performance and delayed puberty in children and increased blood pressure in adults.
  • People with diabetes have a higher risk of adverse effects associated with the kidney. In pregnant women, high levels of exposure may cause decreased birth weight or miscarriage. In men it can damage the organs responsible for sperm production.
  • At very high levels (above 70-100 µg/dL in children and above 100-120 µg/dL blood lead levels in adults), lead can severely damage brain and kidney function and ultimately cause death.

People living in Port Pirie

People living in Port Pirie have a high risk of daily lead exposure due to background contamination in the community and high prevalence of occupational exposure in lead-related occupations. There are few if any children who are not exposed to lead and the average blood lead level of children living in Port Pirie is above the NHMRC national exposure investigation blood lead level of 5 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL). Additional exposure to lead from consuming contaminated seafood will further elevate children’s blood lead levels.

Guide to assist in eating seafood caught in Port Pirie River estuary and surrounding waters

A summary table (PDF 161KB) has been developed which details the seafood types, designated areas and recommendations about consumption by young children, pregnant people and other adults. This guide has been designed to be printed out and kept with you when fishing and has been based on the report findings.

For more information on the health risks of fishing around Port Pirie, see: