Two Hunter coal mines under EPA investigation for dam blowouts

Published: January 16, 2016

A second Hunter Valley coal mine is under investigation for a major pollution event resulting from a failed sediment dam in recent heavy rains. 

After news last week that a dam wall failure at Peabody's Wambo coal mine on the Wollombi Brook released 3 million litires of polluted water into the Hunter River, it's been revealed that the next-door Mount Thorley Warkworth coal mine is also under investigation for dam failure.

Lock The Gate's regional coordinator for the Hunter, Steve Phillips, was alerted to the dam breach at the Rio Tinto mine by local residents, and on reporting the matter to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), learned that the EPA had been investigating the breach since 6th January. 

"Wollombi Brook has suffered two major pollution events from coal mines in just one week,” said Phillips. “Arsenic, lead, mercury, and other toxins are can be present in coal mine tailings dams, as well as huge amounts of salt and sediment, meaning there is potential impacts of these two major pollution events on the Hunter River and on public health."

"Forty kilometres of the Hunter River is in the grip of a blackwater fish kill, and events like these are known to be caused by sediment overload. How much have the Wambo and Warkworth dam blowouts contributed to the fish kill in the Hunter?”

"Hunter coal mines are failing our region and its people. On top of air pollution, loss of biodiversity and agricultural land, and the atrophy of local communities, we can now add major water pollution events. Considering that the coal industry's economic viability into the future is increasingly being called into doubt, the question has to be asked – is it worth it? How does our region benefit from the reign of King Coal?”

"What is the NSW Government doing to force coal mines to clean up their act?” Phillips continued. “Three years ago, after a similar pollution event at Wambo, the mine entered into an enforcable undertaking with the EPA to ensure it wouldn't happen again. But yet, here we are. And only a month ago the NSW Government approved a major expansion of the Warkworth mine. What are they doing to ensure we don't see more major pollution events from these mines in the future?”

Wambo's enforceable undertaking with the EPA can be found here.

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