Mining company to pay more than $110,000 after pleading guilty to water pollution
KBL Mining Ltd, which operates the Mineral Hill Mine near Condobolin in the central west of NSW, has been fined $52,000 in the Land and Environment Court after pleading guilty to an Environment Protection Authority (EPA) charge of water pollution.
KBL Mining has also been ordered to pay the EPA's legal and investigative costs of $61,390 and to publish details of the offence in two local newspapers and one statewide newspaper.
The court proceedings related to an incident that occurred at the mine in June 2013 when waste material called tailings escaped from a broken pipeline. A safety bund surrounding the pipeline failed to control the leak, which lasted for several hours. Approximately 94 cubic metres of tailings entered pools of water in a nearby creek.
The EPA's Chief Environmental Regulator, Mark Gifford said minerals including gold and copper are mined at Mineral Hill and tailings generated during the processing of mineral ore are hazardous to the environment if not managed correctly.
"Tailings contain heavy metals (such as zinc, copper and cadmium) and elevated acidity and salinity. Under the conditions of their Environment Protection Licence KBL Mining was prohibited from allowing tailings or any other pollutant to enter the creek," Mr Gifford said.
"On an ordinary day KBL Mining pump their tailings into a separate storage facility however, a break in the tailings pipeline meant that for over three hours the tailings were pumped into a bund onsite.
"A failure of the bund wall, which KBL staff had failed to prevent, meant tailings flowed outside, down a road, through a grassy flood plain and into the creek.
"It was likely that any microinvertebrates, macroinvertebrates or frogs that were present in the creek at the time would have been killed by the combined effect of toxicity, smothering and the clean-up works carried out by the company.
"Upon becoming aware of the leak staff immediately notified the EPA and began a clean-up operation, using an excavator, hand tools and pumps to remove the tailings material and water from the creek. The water quality in the creek returned to normal within a month.
"Despite the staff's prompt clean-up response the EPA did identify longer term environmental harm, during the course of its investigation, including the removal of trees and groundcover from the flood plain area and the scraping of the creek bed.
"All industries including mining companies like KBL Mining have a responsibility to carry out their activities in a way that does not cause, or have the potential to cause, harm to the environment through pollution. A failure to do so is a breach of the company's licence and an offence under environmental law" Mr Gifford said.
The company could have avoided the extent of the environmental harm if it had properly assessed the bund to ensure it could contain any tailings leak.
"Since the incident in 2013 KBL Mining has carried out significant upgrade work to the site including expanding the bund and adopting further maintenance and monitoring procedures.
"EPA officers continue to monitor activities at the site to ensure the company's actions do not have the potential to cause further harm to the environment or local community. Further breaches could result in additional penalties" Mr Gifford said.
Source: NSW EPA
What we say:
It is very important that companies understand their responsibilities in carrying out their activities, especially when dealing with hazardous products. Should the environment be harmed as a result of inappropriate activities, there are hefty fines you can expect to pay.
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