Pump crews work at abandoned silver mine to keep toxic spill out of Murray-Darling Basin
Mark Willacy | ABC News | 25 August 2016
Queensland Government officials have taken emergency action to stop massive mine storage ponds on the Queensland-New South Wales border discharging heavy metals into the Murray-Darling system, the ABC can reveal.
Heavy rainfall this week threatened to trigger a spill of the processing ponds and dams at the Texas silver mine in southern Queensland.
The mine’s storage sites hold about 240 million litres of by-products such as copper, aluminium, iron, manganese, zinc and nickel.
Queensland’s Environment Department is managing the site after its former owners went broke and abandoned the mine last year.
The ABC last year obtained an internal government document revealing it could cost up to $10 million to fully rehabilitate the site.
The government holds just $2 million from the former owners in financial assurance for the mine site.
The internal document warned that as little as 40 millimetres of rain could trigger a spill from site and send cyanide and other heavy metals into the Dumaresq River and into the Murray-Darling Basin.
The Dumaresq is a major source of irrigation water for primary producers in the region.
The site of the silver mine has received more than 90 millimetres of rain in the past 48 hours, while the region has experienced some localised flooding.
In response to the rain, Department of Environment staff and contractors were pumping to minimise the potential for the release of contaminated water, with ponds and dams on the site reaching capacity.
“As soon as this weather event became clear, [the department] had people on the ground, and dispatched additional officers on Wednesday to monitor the situation,” Environment Minister Steven Miles said.
“[The department] has been liaising with its counterparts in New South Wales about site management, and will continue to consult with them about any possible environmental impacts. I want to stress that this is a problem [the department] inherited.”
The minister said the Texas silver mine was an example of why it was important to have a strong financial assurance system, “otherwise taxpayers can be left with the shortfall”.