Coles and Woolworths have locked up their aerosol products to stop children as young as seven sniffing them to get high in an Outback town.
Mount Isa, a mining town in the desert of western Queensland, has persistent problems with substance abuse, and is known as Australia’s most poisonous town.
Youth workers pleaded with retailers to move the products from shelves into locked cabinets as so many kids inhale the toxic chemicals.
Mount Isa Youth Hub has approached retailers asking them to remove aerosol spray cans, such as deodorants and paints from shelves, as the town tries to reduce the incidence of volatile substance misuse by children
Chroming has forced retailers to remove deodorant cans from sale across Queensland. In this photo kids are spotted chroming by a concerned mum outside Helensvale Westfield.
Children as young as seven are understood to be addicted to the high they get from fumes of deodorant cans, paint tins, peroxides, and hair dyes.
Also known as chroming or huffing, it is usually practiced by teenagers and even younger children as a cheaper way to get high than illicit drugs.
It is not illegal but can be extremely damaging, causing dangerous confusion and disorientation because it deprives the brain and body of oxygen.
Prolonged use can lead to heart problems, hypoxic brain damage, and even death from cardiac arrest, freezing of the larynx or a fluid build-up in the lungs.
Woolworths, Coles and other major retailers complied with the request, but some smaller retailers are still stocking the products on shelves.
The highs and woes of Mount Isa – the district is a mining powerhouse but the town centre has been plagued by youth crime for years
Mount Isa was known as the ‘Oasis of the Outback’ but one of the issues upsetting locals is chroming and substance abuse by local children
Adam Kuzmanovic, manager of the Youth Hub, run by Queensland Indigenous Catholic Social Services, told the ABC there were at least 20 ‘high risk’ children using the service who were known to be chronic chromers.
North West Hospital and Health Service confirmed there were 10 presentations for VSM and other drug poisoning in 2020, but there were already 11 this year.
Melissa, store manager in the Guardian Pharmacy in West Street, told Daily Mail Australia ‘any spray can needs to be behind the counter’.
Sam, acting store manager at Autopro in Mount Isa said the store has to put all its spray cans away from the public to stop young children stealing them for sniffing.
‘All of our aerosols including spray paints are in the back room for that reason,’ she said.
Sam, who said she grew up in Mount Isa, said chroming was openly practiced and it was ‘heartbreaking’ to see.
Mining powerhouse Mt Isa is regarded by some health campaigners the most poisonous city in Australia, and many of its children are making the situation worse by poisoning themselves
‘The youngest I’ve seen is about seven, which is the same age as my daughter. They don’t hide it either, they do it right in front of you because they know nothing will happen,’ she said.
The town has previously seen major problems with petrol sniffing.
‘I grew up here and I have spent my life here and I’ve seen them sniffing everything from petrol to paint, to spray paint to anything in a spray can,’ Sam said.
‘They even sniff the air spray can you use you clean your computer keyboard because they think they can get high off it.
‘This needs to be brought back to the families – it’s the responsibilities of their parents and they should be held accountable.
‘If my daughter was out there spray painting walls and sniffing paint I’d kick her ass, but she’s not.’
Woolworths Queensland general manager Chris Peters told Daily Mail Australia deodorant was being removed from shelves in Mt Isa but also in other towns in the Sunshine State.
‘We take product misuse really seriously and want to make sure we are playing our part in the community,’ he said.
Coles said the issue was ‘an extremely sensitive topic’ and it voluntarily took steps to make the products that could be misused less accessible.
While Mount Isa remains an important mining town its population has been in decline for years
This included placing behind the service desk or including restricting access by placing behind the service desk or in a locked cabinet.
‘[It was done] on a store-by-store basis where we’ve identified a concern or based on advice from Police, government agencies or community groups,’ Coles said.
Children under 10 cannot be charged with a crime in Queensland and there is a campaign to raise that age to 12.
Social workers and youth campaigners argue making substance abuse such as chroming a legal issue could make matters worse for the families concerned by removing children’s only support networks.
Mr Kuzmanovic added when the deodorants were not available the children were smoking marijuana.
‘If we can just remove one thing and then work on another thing, eventually there should be nothing left,’ he said.
In 2019, almost 100 Queensland children, many of them aged below 15, were admitted to hospital as a result of ‘huffing’ aerosols in the past year, according to state Health Minister Steven Miles.
Daily Mail Australia also contacted Queensland Health and Kmart for comment.
Mount Isa’s highs and woes
Social and health issues have long plagued silver, zinc and lead mining hub Mount Isa, in northwest Queensland, one of Australia’s largest outback towns.
The town was wildly successful throughout the 20th century after some of the world’s largest deposits of copper, silver and zinc were found there.
Because of its massive mining operations, Mount Isa earned the nickname ‘the oasis of the outback’.
Major lead mining operations were also established there and thrive today. The biggest operator is Anglo-Swiss multinational Xstrata.
Copper and lead are still smelted on site at Mount Isa.
The Mount Isa district has a population of around 32,000, with about 18,000 in the town centre, with Aboriginal people making up just under a quarter.
But for years the population has been in decline.
According to the latest census data, 28 per cent of the population is aged under 20, considerably higher than the rest of Queensland – which is in turn higher than the rest of Australia.
In 2018 a poll by the local paper asked locals the town’s biggest problem and ‘youth crime’ was overwhelmingly the main response.
Rates of part-time work are lower than the rest of Queensland but at 6.4 per cent, unemployment is better than the state’s average.
It has also been called Australia’s most poisonous town, due to high rates of acquired brain damage or blood poisoning believed to emanate from poor air quality.
In 2008 Queensland Health found 11 per cent of children under four had dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.
For years fingers have been pointed at Xstrata, which owns the local mining operations.
A report on Mount Isa’s air quality urged locals to replace carpets with hard flooring, keep surfaces clean and increase personal hygiene to minimise the risk from lead particles in the air getting into their bodies.