North west NSW landholders who uncovered a mass pollution event downstream from Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal mine have been vindicated after the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed the pollution and issued a clean up notice to the company.
However, landholders say more should have been done earlier amid revelations the EPA had concerns with how Whitehaven was storing the pollutants in August last year and instructed the company at that time to rectify the situation.
The pollutants are expandable polystyrene balls (EPBs), which are used in explosive mixtures. The EPA cleanup notice states that in February "EPA Officers identified that the EPBs had been discharged from the mine into a creek called Back Creek".
This finding was made after local landholder Ros Druce notified the EPA after locating thousands of EPBs in Back Creek and associated overflow areas, following rain in February this year.
However, the notice indicates that EPA were aware of problems last year, stating that, “On 8 August 2019, the EPA undertook an inspection of the premises and noted that these EPBs were not being contained within the explosive depot. Verbal instructions were given to Maules Creek Coal Mine to rectify the situation and contain these EPBs within the depot.”
Back Creek is part of the Namoi River system, which itself eventually flows into the Murray Darling System.
The pollution event extended beyond seven kilometres, including onto crown land which is a travelling stock reserve.
Ms Druce said Whitehaven was a repeat offender, and this latest pollution event was just the latest in a long list of problems the company had caused the local community and the environment.
“Whitehaven has absolutely no social licence left,” she said.
“The EPA needs to get tough with this company - simply issuing a cleanup notice is not enough when Whitehaven was warned more than seven months ago.
“Whitehaven has no respect for the community or the environment it operates in, and should be punished to the full extent of the law.
“There should be a major fine, it needs to be huge. Whitehaven knew about it, they were warned about it, and it still happened.”