Monitor finds extreme risks at McArthur River Mine; locals call for immediate closure

MEDIA ALERT                                                                10 DECEMBER 2015

Monitor finds extreme risks at McArthur River Mine; locals call for immediate closure

A presentation by the McArthur River Mine’s Independent Monitor in Borroloola was today beset by residents angry at evidence of government and company inaction on the mine’s escalating environmental and public health risks.
The report, for the period October 2013-2014, found monitoring results for acid waste rock drainage problems and heavy metal contamination had worsened since the last report and more evidence of fish and cattle contamination.
The Independent Monitor made 88 new recommendations with 32 considered high priority.

Many have not been actioned by operator Glencore from the previous report’s 136 recommendations.
It identified two extreme risks, up from one in the last reporting period, and many high level risks, including:

The IM have estimated there is just 9% non-acid forming waste rock available on site to provide a clay cover and manage the remaining 91% potentially acid forming material in the waste rock dump, with cover thickness not realistic for long-term management. It described the likely failure of the acidic waste rock cover as an extreme risk with ‘likely catastrophic consequences’ for downstream ecosystems.1

An Environmental Impact Statement detailing plans for managing the reactive waste rock is due in mid-2016. Extreme risk of tailings dam failure including acid-forming waste rock tailings combusting and collapsing, and a risk of the tailings dam wall collapsing.
The report also found: Results for Barney Creek, a main tributary of the McArthur River have worsened since last year’s report which found 90% of fish sampled had lead levels above safe eating standards. Sediment samples taken from the streambed returned industrial levels of lead contamination caused by dust and site runoff.
The new surface soil monitoring site at the same location showed high levels of lead in soil at more than double the national guidelines’ health investigation level for industrial sites, as well as elevated arsenic and zinc at levels well above the ecological investigation levels.2

High levels of contaminated seepage from the mine’s tailings dam was first reported in 2007 and has continued in 2015 despite increased efforts by the operator to reduce leaks.

Cattle have been found with lead levels above safe eating standards and culled. The NT Government have been forced to adopt a strategy of regularly culling cattle which gain access to the poorly fenced mineral lease which sits within the McArthur River cattle station.  Erosion has continued to worsen in the McArthur River diversion channel.  No dust controls or extraction fans are in operation at Bing Bong Port meaning toxic lead concentrate is not contained on site and has the potential to risk worker’s health, contaminate the ocean and surrounding environment.

Glencore is again in breach of its Waste Discharge Licence with levels of salts, electrical conductivity and heavy metals found being discharged into the McArthur River at more than double allowable limits.

Lauren Mellor of the Environment Centre NT said “With the on-set of the Wet season its critical that Glencore’s huge volumes of acid-forming waste rock, which was smoking and combusting for most of last year, are prevented from seeping into the McArthur River. Trials to manage the acid-forming waste rock have failed, and the mine’s problems risk becoming a financial and environmental liability for the Territory for decades after Glencore has walked away from the site.”
“The community have been very clear that what they want from the company and government is not more mine-site mismanagement that prolong the problem and increase risks to the environment and local people’s health, but a clear clean up and closure strategy for the mine.”

McArthur River region clan groups and residents have launched a fundraising initiative to coincide with the report’s release offering a limited run of reproductions of a painting by celebrated Borroloola Elder and artist Jack Green. The funds will be used to support independent research into the mine’s environmental impacts to support a prosecution case against Glencore for damage.3

Jack Green said “We have had enough of watching the problems at the mine get worse each year while the company plays games with our children and grandchildren’s future. We will be the ones living here long after Glencore are gone. If the NT Government won’t act to help the community, we will find the solutions ourselves and start to fix some of these problems.”

1 Appendix 2 Risk Register, Independent Monitor’s Community Report, Nov 2015 2 Page 8, Independent Monitor’s Community Report, Nov 2015 3 More on the fundraising initiative:

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