The Tasmanian Public and Environmental Health Network have called on the Director of Tasmania’s Environment Protection Agency Mr Alex Schaap to publicly engage in full disclosure on the tailings dam spill incident at Grange Resources Savage River mine.
Several statements made by Alex Schaap raise questions about the EPA’s lack of transparency over information with regard to the location of the current spill and the environmental harm of these uncontrolled tailings releases containing heavy metal residues on Main Creek and the larger Savage and Pieman Rivers.
Mr Schaap released a statement where he said “The tailings from the mine do not present a risk to public health. The tailings do not contain any processing chemicals of concern nor is metal contamination the major concern as it is further south around Queenstown.”
TPEHN is concerned with comments by Mr Schaap who referred to the effects of metal contamination around Queenstown yet appeared to sidestep the harmful impacts that acid mine drainage and tailings dam spills continue to have on the Savage and Pieman Rivers from legacy mining activities at Savage River in addition to the current spill.
Mr Schaap also avoided naming the many metals that are currently impacting on the ecology of the Savage and Pieman Rivers resulting from acid mine drainage and uncontrolled mine discharges. These metals are, aluminium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, manganese, nickel and zinc and in combination are a potent toxic mixture for aquatic ecology.
Last year Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke gave the go ahead for Grange Resources to raise the existing tailings Dam at Main Creek without any further environmental assessment.
Tony Bourke said “Raising the dam wall will not impact on threatened species. Adequately containing tailings is important in protecting the downstream environment.”
TPEHN wants Alex Schaap to make full disclosure of monitoring data of all metal levels and any sanctions including amount of fines the EPA imposes on Grange Resources as a result of any breaches to the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act.
Media Releases from Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke and Mr Alex Schaap:
The Hon Tony Burke MP
Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Decision made on Savage River Tailings dam wall
20 June 2012
A proposal by Grange Resources to raise the existing Mains Creek tailings dam wall at Savage River Iron Ore Mine in Tasmania can go ahead without further environmental assessment.
Environment Minister Tony Burke said the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities has closely considered the proposal and found the action was not likely to impact on threatened species or other matters protected under national environment law.
“Mining has been occurring at this site in Savage River for decades,’’ he said.
“Raising the dam wall will not impact on threatened species. Adequately containing tailings is important in protecting the downstream environment.
“I have a number of proposals in the Tarkine region coming before me and each of those decisions will be made on its individual merits.
“I will also carefully consider the cumulative impacts of multiple developments. These are decisions I take with great care.
“Any decision I make will be based on whether the new activities will impact on the nationally protected environment and each decision will be based on careful consideration of the science.”
More details of the Grange Resources Savage River Tailings Dam Wall Raise project can be found at http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/epbc/epbc_ap.pl?name=current_referral_detail&proposal_id=6226
EPA Media Release
Officers representing the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) are investigating an unplanned release of water from a tailings dam at the Savage River iron ore mine on Tasmania’s west coast.
Director EPA Alex Schaap said the release is believed to have started last night when water backed up behind tailings in the tailings dam began discharging through the decant outlet for the dam.
“This water may be carrying tailings with it into a creek system,” Mr. Schaap said.
“This creek system discharges into the Savage River and so it is possible that tailings may find their way into Savage River and some discolouration may become evident. The discolouration of the river reported earlier in the week is unrelated to this incident.”
“The tailings from the mine do not present a risk to public health. The tailings do not contain any processing chemicals of concern nor is metal contamination the major concern as it is further south around Queenstown.”
Mr. Schaap said the Savage River tailings do however contain sulfur from the naturally occurring sulfides in the rock.
“This may present a risk to local aquatic ecology in the longer term if sediment is deposited in the river in large enough quantities and becomes acidic. Further assessment will be undertaken to determine if harm to the environment has occurred or is likely to occur,” Mr. Schaap said.
“Several of our officers are on site assessing the scene and working with Grange Resources to ensure that the discharge is stopped and that measures are taken to prevent and mitigate any impacts as quickly as possible.”
Mr. Schaap said water and sediment sampling is being undertaken as part of the EPA investigation into this incident.