Communities face heavy metal poisoning from mine sites throughout NSW


Communities near Orange are having their water tanks tested for heavy metal contamination by NSW Health after private testing showed elevated levels of lead and other heavy metals. There are concerns that the nearby Cadia goldmine, operated by Newcrest Mining, has inadequate dust controls following a $15,000 dollar fine by the EPA last year. 

The increasing extraction of minerals throughout the inland of NSW is putting many communities at risk from similar heavy metal pollution via airborne dust and water contamination. The proposed Bowdens Silver Mine near Mudgee and the Tomingley Gold Mine near Dubbo are other sites that will disturb significant quantities of lead ore that is proposed to be stored in tailings dams that can experience ‘dust lift events’. Many properties throughout these areas rely on rainwater tanks that collect water from roofs that are exposed to accumulation of dust from nearby disturbances. 

Greens MP Sue Higginson and spokesperson for mining, coal and gas said “The exposure of communities near Orange to heavy metals in their private water supply should ring alarm bells for the NSW Government that there must be much tighter controls over mineral extraction projects throughout NSW, 

“Newcrest Mining has said that heavy metals landing on nearby properties are inconsistent with their air quality testing results, but lead doesn’t just come from nowhere and they have already been fined for inadequate dust controls on tailings ponds that hold lead and other mining by products, 

“The proposed silver mine near Mudgee will be operating just 2 kilometres from the local primary school where rainwater is collected for use on school gardens. It is unacceptable that young children could be exposed to lead contaminated dust in their school vegie garden and the only real regulatory deterrent for a mine operator is just a small fine, 

“We are talking about permanent, lifelong impacts to a person's health if they are exposed to lead or other heavy metals and especially for young people and children. If this dust is settling on people’s roofs, then it can be assumed that it is settling in homes and across the environment on vegetation, in waterways and on bare ground as well, we could be looking at a genuine catastrophe near these mine sites and the NSW Government needs to respond, 

“Mining operations must be contained and if they cannot guarantee that their operations do not pose a risk to the health of local communities then they must not be allowed to proceed. It is very concerning to think that the current mineral extraction boom could leave a legacy of lead contaminated land and water across significant parts of inland NSW for generations to come, 

“If these mineral extraction projects are absolutely necessary, then there must be much greater oversight with stronger focus on preventing any harm. If harm can’t be prevented, then projects should not be able to go ahead, or operators should have to cease operations and rehabilitate the site. As an immediate step fines and penalties should be significantly increased because it’s the deterrent impact of fines that help communities, not taking money from companies which have money in abundance.  

“If NSW Health confirm the presence of lead in the private water supply of local residents, then the NSW Government must investigate completely and put all of the options on the table for controlling this pollution.

For media comment contact: Sue Higginson on 0428 227 363