The Environment Centre NT has today demanded that the Chief Minister close Glencore’s McArthur River Mine to protect people, cattle and wildlife from further contamination.
FOI documents obtained by the Environmental Defenders Office NT confirm several NT Government departments were aware of serious contamination issues at the site for at least 18 months and that these environmental problems can only be properly addressed by closing the mine.
Acting Director Anna Boustead said: ‘These reports confirm our suspicions that the NT Government and Glencore have been aware of serious heavy metal contamination issues at McArthur River for years but failed to properly alert the public to the risk of lead poisoning in fish, invertebrates and cattle.
‘We must remember that this is a mine that was only allowed to expand in 2006 because our parliamentarians changed the law in the middle of the night to allow it to go ahead.
‘Past and present governments have not heeded the warnings of Traditional Owners and environmental groups, and now we are all paying the price; but none more so than the Traditional Owners and residents of the Borroloola region.
‘It seems Glencore and successive governments have betrayed the community by withholding critical information about heavy metal contamination of the McArthur River catchment and Bing Bong port in what should have been a very public environmental, health and safety issue.
‘The NT Government must immediately demand Glencore put a proper closure plan for McArthur River Mine in place including a viable rehabilitation levy.’
The documents contain a memo by the Department of Mines and Energy to the Minister for Mines and Energy dated back to September 2014. It revealed the extent of the environmental damage, as well as the health risk posed by mine, including elevated levels of lead found in fish, invertebrates and cattle and sulphur dioxide emissions from the ‘highly reactive’ waste rock dump.
The Department itself admitted in the documents that ‘returning the (waste rock) material to the pit is the only viable long-term remediation strategy’ii, which would require the mine to close. It also highlighted that ‘there is insufficient non-AMD producing material available to construct the waste rock dump as per designs to effectively encapsulate the AMD producing material’.
The Department also stated in its briefing that ‘the lack of a Closure Plan that can provide DME with confidence that the previously promised strategies can be implemented and achieve acceptable outcomes’ was an issue of concern.
Ms Boustead said the Environment Centre had raised several questions about the current status of Glencore’s Mine Management Plan and Closure Plan as well as the outcome of a ‘new economic assessment’ flagged in the briefing documents.
The Department noted during a site visit by the Minister for Mines and Energy on 15 July 2014: ‘The potential risk for cattle in the vicinity of mining or related activities on the (McArthur River Station) site to be contaminated with lead or other heavy metals was pointed out to MRM’s Environment Manager.’
On 7 August 2014 tests revealed that one out of five animals slaughtered for testing ‘had a lead content in its kidneys above the Maximum Residue Level allowable for human consumption of offal’.
Glencore, the operator of McArthur River Mine, grossly underestimated the amount of potentially acid forming material; claiming in its 2011 Environmental Impact Statement that the proportion was 12% of waste rock, when it later found to be 88%.
The Environment Centre is meeting with the Department of Mines and and Energy later today. ‘We have sought a meeting with Minister Tollner and Minister Higgins about the serious
environmental issues at McArthur River Mine and will be, but are yet to receive an invitation from either Minister for a briefing on the matter.’
Traditional Owners Gadrian Hoosan and Nancy McDinny have initiated a petition to Clean-up and Close McArthur River Mine with the support of the Environment Centre NT.