CFSH submission highlights Berrima Colliery pollution

A Highlands action group has weighed in on claims that Berrima Colliery is one of the worst polluting mines in Australia.

The Boral owned colliery ceased operation in 2013.

Dr Ian Wright from Western Sydney University said Berrima Colliery had been polluting the Wingecarribee River for years in a submission on the Hume Coal proposal.

“The impact on the Wingecarribee River biodiversity down-stream of the [Berrima] mine is greater than has been observed in mine drainage from any other Australian coal mine and is very high on an international comparison," he said in the submission.

Dr Wright’s findings said manganese, zinc and nickel were measured at higher concentrations in mine drainage water than were recorded in any other mine drainage in the Sydney Basin.

Coal Free Southern Highlands president Peter Martin said he was not surprised by these findings.

“Boral has known that the river is being badly polluted for years and it was proven conclusively in a court case the community against Boral in 2013,” he said. 

“However the company has closed the mine and has done nothing to solve the pollution problem. This report says that the pollution may go on for decades and possibly for ever.”

But a Boral spokesman said the company had cooperated with Dr Wright in his research and believed his findings did not “appear to accord with other monitoring conducted downstream of his sampling points and as a result, will likely contradict other recent independent research commissioned by Boral.”

“Boral has been working closely with the NSW Environment Protection Authority and the Department of Planning and Environment (Resources and Energy) on an agreed closure plan since 2014 and will continue to work with those authorities to ensure an appropriate plan is implemented,” he said.

“We are aware of the work being undertaken by Dr Wright and have actively and fully cooperated with him in his research for the purposes of providing context to the Berrima Colliery closure plan.

The spokesman said Boral would consider the findings as part of the development of its final closure plans.

The submission was commissioned by Coal Free Southern Highlands (CFSH) and was the result of extensive testing of the water and sediments above and below the mine adit by Dr Wright who has studied six other mines in the Sydney Water catchment.

Dr Wright also believes the Berrima Colliery is highly relevant to the proposed Hume Coal mine.

In his submission, he said the colliery, a few kilometres away from the proposed mine extracted coal from the Wongawilli coal seam for years.

He said water tight bulkheads installed at the Berrima mine had not stopped the pollution and called into question whether concrete sealing bulkheads would be effective for Hume’s proposed mine.

But a Hume Coal spokesman said the Berrima Colliery bore no resemblance to their proposed underground operation.

“Hume Coal has every confidence in Boral's ability to work with all stakeholders throughout the mine closure process.”

Mr Martin said if pollution did escape from the Hume Coal mine, it would have a devastating impact on the surrounding environment.

“This study throws a spotlight on Hume Coal’s proposed coal mine in Sutton Forest just  five kilometres away. It will be fifteen times bigger and would have a devastating impact on the surface water system in the area including the Wingecarribee River if the mine discharges excess water into the rivers and creeks in the area,” Mr Martin said.