Mining inquiry to examine pollution impacts on health

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The mining industry has been put on notice with a parliamentary inquiry to examine whether they are contaminating NSW residents and if regulations should be strengthened in response.

The NSW upper house inquiry will investigate the current and potential future impacts of gold, silver, lead and zinc mining on human health, as well as the effects on land, water and air quality.

The catalyst for the investigation arose from Central West residents’ concerns that pollution from the Cadia Mine – one of Australia’s largest gold mines, just outside Orange – was affecting their health, as reported by the Herald earlier this month. 

An inquiry into mining impacts on community health and environment has been announced, following concerns from several community groups over nearby mines.Credit: Brook Mitchell

Some in the community believe dust from the mine has been allowed to drift across the region and pollute local drinking water.

Residents claim that children have broken out in rashes and their nails have become rough, ridged and slightly deformed. As yet, there is no proven link between the mine and these complaints.

An investigation by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) into the resident’s claims is ongoing, with the mine’s owner, Newcrest, separately addressing the matter.

In an update to investors on Tuesday, Newcrest said a 12-month study conducted by the federal government’s Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation had found Cadia was meeting air quality standards for the mine’s surrounding region, and had highlighted that metals including lead, nickel, selenium and chromium did not exceed national standards, occurring at “very low levels”.

“We continue to work with residents on their concerns raised in a transparent and factual manner,” a Newcrest spokesperson previously said. “We do not compromise on people’s health and safety and remain firmly committed to meeting all our obligations in a way that is aligned with our values.”

Chair of the Inquiry and Greens MP Dr Amanda Cohn said the inquiry would “examine whether there is an appropriate balance between the mining activities undertaken in this state and the health and wellbeing of communities and environmental areas impact by those activities”.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said she expected strong engagement from multiple communities facing the prospect of heavy mining nearby.

“With one gold mine and a silver and lead mine having recently been approved in regional NSW, we must ensure that every measure is taken to protect human health and the environment. If this can’t be guaranteed, then the mines should not progress,” she said.

“Our regulatory framework protects global mining companies more than it does local communities and the environment. This is clearly unacceptable, and I certainly hope that we’ll come up with some recommendations to redress this imbalance.

There are two new mines that have received Independent Planning Commission approval in the Central West: the McPhillamys Gold Project and the Bowdens Silver and Lead Project. Local communities have expressed concern over the projects.

The inquiry will also examine regulatory framework, rehabilitation and decommissioning practices. An issue that will become increasingly important as mines and other fossil fuel-intensive projects across Australia wrap up. In the Hunter Valley alone, some 17 coal mines may close in the next 20 years.

The Herald reported earlier this month that despite strict regulations, there were many gaps in the mining rehabilitation.

The inquiry will provide its findings by November 2023.

More to come

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