Dr Ian Wright says Hume Coal mine will pollute Wingecarribee River, just like the Berrima Colliery

Downstream of the Berrima Coal mine. Photo: Ian Wright
Downstream of the Berrima Coal mine. Photo: Ian Wright

“We have a major ecological impact here.”

This is how Dr Ian Wright described the impact the Berrima Colliery has had on the Wingecarribee River.

Dr Wright presented the findings of his past 12 months of research at a public meeting at council on September 27.

He said since the mine had ceased operation, the levels of nickel, zinc and maganese in the water discharged from the mine had increased and polluted the river.

“At the moment I have to say zinc is our biggest problem in terms of adversely affecting the ecosystem.”

A Boral spokesperson said the mine discharge was 90kms from drinking water stores and did not pose a risk to the drinking water catchment or people’s health.

“Boral’s recent ecological assessments provide evidence indicative of good river health and near natural condition downstream of the discharge. Further assessments continue.”

However Dr Wright said that while Boral was not pouring “vats of pollution” into the river, its mining operation and legacy was “causing ongoing pollution of the river.”

Dr Wright’s studies found this pollution had a negative impact on the abundance and diversity of insect life in the river which other animals such as the platypus who live there, rely on for food.

He said this was a problem that could be fixed but it was one many mining companies did not want to address if they didn’t have to.

The Boral spokesperson said the company continued to work with the authorities as well as experts such as Dr Wright to ensure the mine is closed in a manner that meets all government requirements.

“Given the ongoing nature of the water quality investigation and testing process, the complex geological, catchment and legacy issues, it is our belief that a public presentation on the data requested would be premature. We would welcome the opportunity to present at a later date once an agreed position on the potential impacts of the discharge and closure plan is better understood.”

Dr Wright said he believed this issue would be a problem for decades.

He said the EPA’s environmental protection licence which Boral had complied with was ineffective and the issue had flown under Water NSW’s radar.

Looking at the proposed Hume Coal mine, Dr Wright said if approved it too would have a negative effect on the environment and increase water pollution.

He based his opinion on results from Hume Coal’s coal leaching test.

But Hume Coal project director Greig Duncan said Dr Wright’s report should not compare the two mines.

“Dr Wright’s submission is based on a false assumption that the Hume Coal project will discharge large volumes of untreated mine water,” he said. 

“This is incorrect and misleading, and consequently the conclusions reached in the submission are plain wrong.” 

The Boral spokesperson also said the two mining projects were in no way linked.

““Boral’s Berrima Colliery closure plan is an independent process which is not linked to the Hume Coal project.”