Toxic mine water pumped into the Wollangambe River

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Toxic mine water pumped into the Wollangambe River

Post by T2 » 18 Feb 2019, 11:01

Most Blue Mountains canyoners will remember the major spill of coal fines — basically a slurry of coal particles — that went into the Wollangambe River in 2015. This black sludge was devastating to the river. The NSW Environment Protection Authority not only ordered the owner of Clarence Colliery, Centennial Coal, to undertake a massive clean up, but they also launched legal action. Along with a record fine of more than $1 million, Centennial also had to spend more than $2 million on removing the coal pollution and putting in place silt barriers.

What is less well known is that the Clarence Colliery has been pumping millions of litres of waste water into the river for about four decades, which has been completely legal. This water is pumped from the underground coal workings and released near the headwaters of the river. Not only is it high in salt, it contains dangerous levels of heavy metals. Scientists monitoring the levels of metals like zinc or nickel in the river — and comparing them results to tributaries that don't have mine pollution — found heavy metal levels were thousands of times higher than they should be and more than 10 times safe levels. Up to 90 per cent of the insects and animals living in the river have been killed by this pollution (this is why you should never drink directly from the ‘Gambe!)

In recent years, the Office of Environment and Heritage (which NPWS falls under) produced a detailed toxic discharge report that led to the EPA imposing a "pollution reduction plan" on the mine in September last year. That plan would have required Centennial to cease all mine water discharges into the Wollangambe River by the end of 2019.

Centennial Coal lodged an appeal to the Land and Environment Court. In return for the company withdrawing this legal challenge, the EPA agreed to an altered plan that gives the company more time to stop polluting the river.

This “revised” pollution reduction plan requires Centennial to lodge a development application by the end of this year for a water treatment plant that will reduce the heavy metals and salt levels in the water. It will then either be piped to the Coxs River or the Farmers Creek Dam which provides drinking water to Lithgow. Independent assessments will need to confirm that this treated mine water isn't toxic before it can run into the Coxs River, given it eventually flows down to Warragamba Dam and becomes Sydney’s drinking water.

So while it’s been a depressingly slow process, thanks to pressure from conservation groups and the great work of scientists monitoring the river, in the next few years we should finally have the Wollangambe River return to the pristine state it was in before this coal mine opened. It’ll be great to not only see the end of this pollution, but also the recovery of the local ecosystem as heavy metals and salts are flushed through the system. And for canyoners, it should only be a few more years before we can once again drink water directly from the river without worrying about toxic heavy metals.

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Re: Toxic mine water pumped into the Wollangambe River

Post by marilyn_scott1950 » 19 Feb 2019, 21:18

Thanks for the update Tim

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Re: Toxic mine water pumped into the Wollangambe River

Post by Flynny » 20 Feb 2019, 17:08

While the metal levels have been shown to be disastrous to macro invertebrates they are below levels that would currently be considered harmful to humans and the water quality is about 3x better than water out of Katoomba's house hold taps.

Should Centennial clean up it's act and comply with stricter conditions as they are placed upon them. Yep. Would I be too worried about drinking directly from the 'Gambe? Nope.

I notice the article fails to link directly to the study or any other data. A simple google search should bring that up. ... 017-3278-8

As the article does say (And I'm not including the tailings from the dam collapse in this statement as it was shocking and should never have been allowed to happen) the water the mine has been discharging since the 80s has so far complied with the conditions placed on them.

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