Locals have raised concerns about smoke and contamination issues relating to the McArthur River zinc mine. (Image: McArthur River mine)
Locals have raised concerns about smoke and contamination issues relating to the McArthur River zinc mine. (Image: McArthur River mine)

By Courtney Pearson

September 8, 2015

LOCAL Borroloola residents and the Northern Territory Government have criticised the environmental record at Glencore’s McArthur River zinc mine in the wake of the contamination of waterways with heavy metals.

Residents raised health concerns about reactive waste rock from the mine and leaking tailings dams, while NT Planning minister David Tollner and Chief Minister Adam Giles threatened to close the mine if environmental practices were not improved. They also wanted the project’s bond increased.

“We have been adamant that unless Glencore fixes its environmental procedures and practices we will close the mine,” Mr Giles told the ABC.

“We will not stand for an environmental bond that does not support rehabilitation at the end of the mine life. We will not support procedures that put potentially high risk to the environment.

“In the last few months we have very firmly put out there that the environmental bond will be raised, and if there can’t be remedial measures put in place for some of the concerns that we’re seeing, which came about as a result of its initial approval back in 2006, I will close the mine.”

Traditional Owners and environmental groups have protested against the project, citing the effects of smoke from the waste rock dump, the mine’s impact on tributaries and contamination incidents. A petition presented to the state’s Environment minister Gary Higgins, which called for Glencore to be prosecuted for environmental damage and the mine to be shut down, received more than 3600 signatures.

Glencore rebuffed the documents detailing the contamination, claiming they were out of date and that the company had made improvements since the information was presented.

The NT Government instructed the company to warn people not to eat fish caught in two creeks near the mine or near Bing Bong port, as the waterways were contaminated.

“Most of the issues raised in the documents relate to the public Independent Monitor Report released in October 2014 and address the 2012-2013 period of operation,” Glencore stated.

“We also note that the documents released are nine months old.”

Glencore said the mine had made significant improvements since October 2014 in relation to the management and treatment of waste rock, the tailings storage facility and water quality on-site.

“MRM [McArthur River Mining] is committed to managing a safe, environmentally sustainable and profitable mining operation that continues to make a valuable contribution to the community and the Territory,” Glencore stated.

Last October the NT Environment Protection Authority issued an audit notice to the mine following complaints from the public about smoke and fumes from the waste rock dump.

The McArthur River Mine, 900km southeast of Darwin in a remote area of the NT, is one of the world’s largest zinc and lead deposits. Zinc concentrate is transported from the mine to the Bing Bong loading facility about 100km to the north.