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  • Northern Territory combats youth Avgas sniffing

    Author: AAP

More than 150 kids from the NT's remote north-east Arnhem Land who have been sniffing toxic aviation fuel have elevated blood lead levels, health officials say.

The Northern Territory government has established a special body to address the scourge of toxic aviation fuel sniffing amongst children in Aboriginal communities after some recorded blood lead levels 17 times above the safe rate.

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In May, the ABC revealed kids from Elcho Island in north-east Arnhem Land were breaking into remote airstrips to steal aeroplane fuel known as Avgas.

Since April, health authorities have tested 178 youngsters from several indigenous communities, identifying elevated blood lead levels in 154 cases.

The highest was 17 times above the acceptable level and the average was between five and six times the safe amount.


NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles says Labor has formed an inter-agency working group led by the department of chief minister to address the "extremely concerning" problem.

"We'll certainly act on the information they provide us," she told reporters on Thursday.

Sniffing the volatile substance carries the risk of death or brain damage, and 10 people have been hospitalised in Darwin in what's been described as a public health emergency.

Ms Fyles says the Gunner government is offering free blood tests and providing culturally appropriate information to raise awareness about the grave dangers involved.

"We're also working with communities so they can understand and work together to stop this unacceptable behaviour," she said.

On Elcho Island, young people had been climbing onto the wings of planes to siphon the extremely flammable gas from fuel tanks since March last year, and there were concerns about explosion risks.

The bulk of sniffers are aged between 10 and 17 but a handful of children are even younger.

The NT government funded a guard dog and security officer to patrol the airstrip each night for three months, but it is not clear if that will be extended.

In May, federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said the problem is costing the community on multiple levels.

"To me what's so tragic is the age of the people involved - very very young kids," he said.

"Whether it's ganja or grog or petrol sniffing or deodorant sniffing, we've got to deal with the underpinning issues."


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