South Sydney Coal Mine Wastewater Spill Turns Royal National Park Creek Into Black Mud | Environment

A stream running through the Royal National Park, south of Sydney, was hit by a coal sewage spill that turned its water into thick black slush.

It is the third coal pollution incident investigated by the New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority this year involving Peabody Energy’s Metropolitan mine in Helensburg.

Environmentalists reported seeing “ink-black water” flowing through the park’s bush. The NSW Greens say they want to know if it will influence the state government’s plans to reintroduce platypuses to the area.

NSW Environment Minister James Griffin said Tuesday he had requested an urgent briefing from the EPA.

“I have spoken directly with the company to express my deep concerns and my immediate goal is to ensure that repairs happen as an urgent priority,” he said.

The pollution, which followed the heavy rains, occurred after the surface water and sediments at the mine site overflowed into Camp Gully Creek, a tributary of the Hacking River.

Peabody Energy was fined $ 15,000 in June for polluting a local waterway. Two months later, another overflow event imposed a new condition for the mine’s license.

On Tuesday James McCormack, editor of Wild Magazine, was running around the Camp Gully Creek area when he saw that the water looked like “a thick black slush”.

“The ink-black water flowed through otherwise beautiful rainforest trees,” he said.

“If we can’t take care of the second oldest national park in the world, what can we take care of?”

NSW Greens environmental spokesperson Sue Higginson said her hands were stained black after she picked up rocks from the Camp Gully Creek base. Photograph: James McCormack / Wild Magazine

Sue Higginson, the NSW Green Environment spokesperson, visited later that week.

He walked through the forest and passed the clear waters of the Hacking River to the confluence where Camp Gully begins.

“All I could see was the black water in a balloon meeting the clean water of the Hacking River.”

Walking further up Camp Gully, Higginson said his hands were stained black after he picked up stones from the creek base.

“You might just see the murky black water and black mud sticking to the creek base and the rocks at the creek’s edge.”

A hand holding a piece of coal sludge that has polluted Camp Gully Creek, which runs through Sydney's Royal National Park
Peabody Energy said external environmental experts are evaluating any damage to the waterways and will advise on remediation measures. Photograph: James McCormack / Wild Magazine

Higginson said he would ask the government if the pollution would further delay plans to reintroduce platypuses to the national park. Those plans were put on hold in April after the flooding in NSW.

An EPA spokesperson said the authority was investigating the pollution and issued the company with a prevention notice calling for immediate action to prevent further accidents.

This included improving stormwater management and monitoring practices, increasing stormwater storage capacity, and developing stricter water quality standards prior to the release of wastewater from the site.

EPA officials collected water samples and this week were conducting further assessments to determine the ecological impact on the creek.

“The EPA will take regulatory action if the investigation identifies any violations,” the spokesperson said.

A Peabody spokesperson said 2,500mm of rain fell on the mine site between January and the end of July, nearly double the expected annual rainfall.

The spokesperson said the company was working with the EPA to address the effects of the most recent heavy rainfall and had conducted an independent review of surface water management.

They said a civil works program was underway to improve the management of excess stormwater and that external environmental experts were evaluating any damage to the waterways and would provide advice on remediation measures.

“Peabody takes its environmental responsibilities seriously and the company has taken immediate action to correct the problems unearthed by the extreme rains that hit the Illawarra region in the first half of this year,” they said.

The spokesperson said that the company’s environmental management personnel carried out remediation work in the immediate vicinity of the mine and Peabody engaged in “any additional activities that may be needed in nearby waterways to improve environmental results.”

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