MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Cyanide Fears

Published by MAC on 2004-11-21

Cyanide Fears

By Suellen Hinde, Northern Territory News

November 21, 2004

Environmentalists and residents fear 500,000 litres of cyanide has been emptied into the Edith River from the abandoned Mt Todd mine site near Katherine.

Residents downstream from the mine say cyanide solution inside two of three storage tanks has been emptied out of the tanks by workers.

"The tanks are empty and have been moved for salvaging," one downstream resident said. "But no one knows where the cyanide is.

"That is what I have been told from someone working there.

"When the rains come this could cause enormous damage to fish and marine life -- and what about what it could do to the water we use for irrigation?"

The Territory Government Mines Department maintains the cyanide is still in storage tanks at the mine, which ceased operation in July 2000.

The third storage tank contains 400,000 litres of cyanide solution. There are plans to shift the contents of the third tank to a tailings dam.

"But that dam is leaking and with Wet rainfalls it overflows regularly," Environment Centre of the NT co-ordinator Peter Robertson said.

Mr Robertson said Edith River -- which flows into the Ferguson River and then the Daly River -- was under serious threat from cyanide, heavy metal and acid water pollution from the mine.

He said the handling of clean-up and rehabilitation was a fiasco and the mine was a toxic time bomb.

"Issues surrounding the clean-up of the Mt Todd mine near Katherine are so serious that an independent Commission of Inquiry under the NT Inquiries Act is needed to investigate and provide government and the public with a full, open and honest report," he said.

Mr Robertson said other issues included how to manage the massive stockpile of waste rock -- 40 million tonnes spread over 75ha -- which was causing "acid rock drainage" and has the potential to damage aquatic ecosystems and downstream water users.

The Government has admitted proper site rehabilitation would cost as much as $20 million.

Mines Department deputy director Richard Jackson said the cyanide tanks had been sold to salvagers Aussiequip Pty Ltd.

"We have no information that the cyanide has escaped to the environment and as far as we are concerned it is still in the tanks," Mr Jackson said.

He said removing the cyanide was very expensive so it "will more than likely be put into a tailings dam".

Aussiequip on-site manager Colin Freeman said the cyanide had not been moved.

"But it doesn't belong to us, it belongs to the Government -- we bought the tanks but not the cyanide," Mr Freeman said. "We are not responsible for it.

"We keep saying to them: 'remove it from the tanks'."

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