March/Dec 2023: Orange/Cadia Mine. Lead, Mercury in Rainwater Tanks

Rainwater tank testing near NSW’s Cadia gold mine finds unsafe levels of mercury

An independent study of rainwater tanks near the Cadia goldmine in central west New South Wales has detected unsafe levels of mercury in some residents’ drinking water, nine months after widespread water testing conducted by NSW Health found no unsafe results.

The results come from an independent testing program conducted by Dr Ian Wright through the Cadia Community Sustainability Network (CCSN), which took water samples from kitchen taps and the top and bottom of rainwater tanks at 42 properties near the mine, between August and November 2023.

Mercury was found in half of the 40 samples taken from the bottom of the rainwater tanks, and of those samples, two exceeded the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines for mercury, which is less than 1.0 micrograms per litre. The guidelines are the national basis for determining safe water quality.

Mercury was also detected in nine samples taken from the tops of tanks, and eight from kitchen taps. None of these samples exceeded the guidelines.

The findings have prompted some local residents to ask the environmental regulator to re-test rainwater tanks, as water levels drop over summer.

It’s the fifth round of testing conducted by Wright and CCSN, whose initial test results released in March 2023 sparked an investigation by the NSW Environment Protection Authority and a round of water testing by NSW Health, the EPA, and ALS, an independent company contracted by Cadia. Cadia is owned by Australia-based Newmont Corporation, one of the world’s biggest gold miners.

The EPA this month said the results of the tank and soil tests in Cadia Valley were “typical” of Australian rainwater tanks, a characterisation the community rejects. The EPA found only four of 97 samples exceeded the guideline limits for any contaminant, and attributed that contamination to “domestic and local sources”. It then stressed the importance of cleaning tanks.

Wright, who is a member of the EPA’s Cadia expert advisory panel and an academic at Western Sydney University, has long argued that the methodology used by regulatory authorities to test rainwater tanks is not adequate because it does not test the whole water column. He said the latest results show the problem lurks at the bottom of the tanks, where sediment-enriched water accumulates.

Lead was found in all of the samples from the bottom of the tanks. Of the 43 tanks, 41 exceeded the Australian drinking water guidelines for lead, and eight by more than 100 times the guidelines. Arsenic, manganese and nickel also exceeded the guideline values in a number of samples taken from the bottom of tanks.

In a statement, CCSN said it had previously found mercury in “many tanks” in a community testing program conducted in December last year, and it said the priority should be determining the mercury’s source.

CCSN said it would be appropriate to retest water tanks as water levels drop over summer.

“We would also like to see a comparative study of contamination in water tanks in rural areas without a mine,” a spokesperson said. “This study needs to consider the amount of contamination as well as the concentration in the sediment.”

The group said also many of the rainwater tanks in the area had been cleaned prior to the latest round of water testing, and it was frustrating for the onus to be on residents to clean tanks rather than the authorities determining the source of the contamination.

Samples collected by NSW Health and ALS on behalf of Cadia in separate investigations conducted earlier this year were analysed also for mercury but no samples were found to have exceeded the guideline limits.

The EPA’s testing program detected mercury in one kitchen tap sample at levels below Australian drinking water guidelines, as well as in the sediment samples taken from some tanks.

Dr Larissa Schneider, an associate professor at the Australian National University and convener of research group Mercury Australia, said more testing should be done.

“The fact that [mercury] has reached guidelines values invites the government to do further studies,” she said. “That’s what the guidelines are there for.”

Schneider said it wasn’t clear whether the mercury was organic – which poses a higher risk to human health – or inorganic. Inorganic mercury, which is the kind typically released by the mining industry, is not as easily absorbed but is “still toxic”, she said.

She said this was why it was important to test for certain bacteria in tanks, which can help convert inorganic to organic mercury.

A pollution incident response management plan for Cadia released in June identified mercury as a potential pollutant from the mine, although not at levels that exceeded clean air regulations.

Guardian Australia understands that the Cadia East Project approval explicitly prohibits the use of mercury or cyanide. Mercury is not a by-product of mining at Cadia but occurs naturally in rock within the district.

The EPA said Cadia is required to comply with the Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) regulations, which set maximum concentration limits of air emissions for Type 1 and 2 substances, including mercury.

“While the presence of metals, including mercury, in sediment or bottom water can be concerning for the community, there is currently no evidence of an exposure pathway from sediment through drinking water,” a spokesperson for the EPA said.

“Any potential exposure can be further limited by regularly cleaning sediment from rainwater tanks.”

Video – Aug 8 2023:

Heads of Cadia Newcrest gold mine front inquiry, apologise over ‘breakdown’ in community relations

The head of a New South Wales mine facing criminal charges has used a public inquiry to apologise to residents near Australia’s biggest gold operation after they raised health concerns about dust coming from its site.

A NSW Upper House Inquiry is investigating the impacts of lead, zinc, gold and silver mining on human and environmental health.

The hearing was triggered by alleged dust pollution breaches at Orange’s Cadia gold mine, owned by Newcrest Mining, and the discovery of heavy metals in nearby residents’ blood and rainwater.

The source of the heavy metals is subject to an investigation by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

On Monday, the Newcrest Mining interim chief executive Sherry Duhe and Cadia Valley Operations general manager Michael Dewar faced questioning before the inquiry.

“We haven’t always gotten things right,” Ms Duhe said.

“Recently we’ve seen a breakdown in our relationship with some of our neighbours and we know they have concerns.

“We could have listened more and communicated better and for this we are sorry.”

Concerned neighbours took it upon themselves in July to have their drinking water and blood tested.

The EPA has launched criminal proceedings against Newcrest Mining in the Land and Environment Court over an alleged breach of section 128 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.

Nearby resident feels ‘deserted’

Frances Retallack’s farm is near the Cadia Valley mine and is vice president the Cadia Community Sustainability Network.

She said NSW Health told local doctors not to proactively test residents for heavy metal contamination, and instead wait until there were potential symptoms indicating it.

“We’ve been deserted by the agency you would expect to prioritise our health … completely threw our community under the bus,” Ms Retallack said.

“It was horrifying.”

She said a human health impact assessment found the area has double the lung disease incidence compared to NSW.

“We’ve repeatedly as a community talked about ‘do we have a cancer cluster?’,” she said.

“Just anecdotally, ‘Oh there’s another brain cancer, there’s another leukaemia’, and I shouldn’t know this many people who have these sorts of things.”

Water tests not adequate, expert says

Ian Wright, an associate professor of environmental science at Western Sydney University, told the committee he tested water tanks on 10 properties in the Cadia Valley in August this year.

“All 10 supplies received results showing lead at concentrations above the Australian drinking water guidelines. All 10. 100 per cent,” Dr Wright said.

“The US EPA does not recommend there is a safe level for lead.”

He said one tank exceeded the guidelines by 110 times and another by 140 times.

Dr Wright said he “strongly suspects” dust from the mine was falling on rooves and being washed into tanks.

He said water tests by the EPA and NSW Health were not adequate as they failed to test the bottom of the tanks.

“In my opinion their sampling was not fit for purpose and underestimated the health risks for users,” he said.

Mr Dewar said there was no evidence it was emitting dangerous levels of dust outside of the mine’s boundaries when concerns about emissions were raised.

“None of our external monitors suggesting we were polluting off the premises,” Mr Dewar said.

‘Our very strong aim is to never be penalised’: mine

Greens member of the legislative council, Cate Faehrmann, told the hearing the mine had been fined three times for breaches of dust pollution, at a total cost of $45,000.

Ms Faehrmann said Newcrest made $778 million in the last financial year.

“That’s the cost of doing business, isn’t it?” she said.

Ms Duhe replied that the company does not “see any sort of trade-off between fines and profitability”.

“In fact our very strong aim is to never be penalised and to always be in compliance,” she said.

The company uses large bags to capture dust in its underground operation, which have the capacity to hold several hundred kilograms of material.

“It’ll be more than one bag [a day],” Mr Dewar said.

Community engagement ‘inadequate’

NSW EPA chief executive, Tony Chappel, conceded the regulator had failed to work with, or listen to community concerns in the past.

“The way we’ve historically engaged with the community has been inadequate and probably contributes to unnecessary stress and anxiety,” Mr Chappel told the committee.

He said there had been several changes in EPA leadership and executive roles recently to shift its focus.

He conceded some mine operators may consider fines simply as a cost of business.

“I think they’re certainly fearful of both losing their social licence to operate but their literal licences as well.”

The NSW Minerals Council said responsible mining underpins the transition to net-zero targets.

Ms Faehrmann said the state government did not list any of the four minerals being investigated as critical to the energy transition.

The mineral council’s chief executive Stephen Galilee rejected that notion.

“Whether they’re on a government list or not, try doing it without them,” he said.

“That pathway to net-zero is not possible without what is being extracted out of the ground.”

The inquiry will also examine recent approvals of a lead mine in the Mudgee district and a gold project at Blayney, near Bathurst.

Susannah White is from Lue, near Mudgee, where the recently approved Bowdens Silver Project will be built.

She said the planning system favours projects getting approval, at the expense of communities.

“It’s stacked against you financially, it’s stacked against you — in terms of your human resource ability to deal with the proposals.

“You really do get the feeling that you’re in a process that is a process to get to ‘yes’.”

Those Central West mines are situated near towns and on agricultural land.

The inquiry is trying to get to the bottom of dealing with the increased need for critical minerals to reach net zero targets while limiting the impacts on humans and the environment.

The hearing will continue in October.

Newcrest Cadia gold mine report confirms lead contamination connection to rainwater tanks

A report commissioned by a gold mine in central west NSW has confirmed lead matching its ore has been found in the rainwater tanks of Orange district residents.

The Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) was commissioned by Newcrest’s Cadia Valley Operations as part of a raft of regulatory requirements in the wake of the mine being found to be non-compliant by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

Residents living in the mine district have been reporting dust events since 2018, when a dam holding mining waste called tailings failed.

The HHRA identified that point of use water, such as kitchen tap or tank tap, was the largest risk factor for heavy metal exposure and recommended that tank maintenance and monitoring “guidance is followed”.

Released to the public on September 1, the report concludes that the “potential risks to human health from emissions from CVO is low and acceptable”.

Lead matches Cadia

The report recaps independent studies commissioned by the mine to predict community exposure to date, including a tailings dust study, micro particle shed and lead fingerprinting work done by the University of South Australia.

Lead fingerprinting allows lead to be traced to its source using isotopic signatures.

Under the lead fingerprinting section, the report mentions that lead matching Cadia’s isotopic signature was found in 40 per cent of tank sludge samples collected by Newcrest.

This contradicts the mine’s July press release that stated there was “no evidence linking Cadia to the lead sampled in district rainwater tanks”.

In a statement, the report’s author said: “The information presented in the report is accurate based on available information at the time of completion of the report”.

Newcrest did not comment on why the HHRA report included information that contradicted previous communication by the company.

“The findings of the Human Health Risk Assessment conducted by Sage Environmental shows that Cadia is operating within established health standards, and the potential risk of emissions to human health is low,” it said in a statement.

Cadia Community Sustainability Network chair Gem Green said the changing messages had undermined the community’s trust.

“The process with Newcrest and Cadia over the last several months has completely destroyed the relationship with the community,” Mrs Green said

Twice state average

Using national health data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the assessment built a picture of the health of the Blayney and Orange districts that flank the mine and compared them to the wider region.

It did this to “accurately assess the potential impact of the CVO operations on the population”.

Statistics showed premature respiratory mortality rates for the Orange district were double the state average, and rates for Blayney were approaching double. Childhood asthma rates were also elevated.

Mrs Green said regulators weren’t doing enough.

“We have an entire district which appears to have significantly worse outcomes than surrounding areas,” Mrs Green said.

“In that context shouldn’t we expect the regulators to be doing everything possible to reduce emissions from all sources?”

In a statement, an EPA spokesperson said the Independent Health Risk Assessment was “extensive” and was under review by the watchdog.

“We required Cadia to have this assessment peer reviewed before its submission and the EPA will now have its own technical specialists review the report before it is provided to our independent expert panel for advice,” the spokesperson said.

“All reporting and monitoring provided by Cadia is closely interrogated by the EPA.”

Inquiry to look at communication

A parliamentary inquiry into the impacts of metal mining on health, water and air was announced in July with the committee expected to table its findings in November.

Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann, who will chair the inquiry, said it would closely examine how Newcrest had communicated pollution incidents to the community.

“This is critical to the committee being able to make recommendations to government, including where the law needs to be strengthened,” Ms Faehrmann said.

She said there was very little oversight when it came to mining companies’ public communication.

Water tank testing reveals heavy metal levels in residents’ drinking supply

July 28 2023: (Laura Chung)

Water samples from the properties surrounding one of Australia’s largest gold mines have failed to show the presence of widespread heavy metals, an investigation by the NSW environmental watchdog has revealed.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) completed water testing for more than 85 properties in the Cadia Valley following concerns from residents that pollution from the mine was affecting their health.

EPA officers collected and tested water samples from household kitchen taps and water tanks and compared them to the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. Most results from kitchen tap samples showed metal concentrations below the guideline values.

At two properties, lead was detected at or marginally above the accepted level of lead from samples taken in the kitchen tap, but water tank samples from the same properties were below guideline values.

Water tank samples showed six properties had levels of lead above the guideline’s values, while kitchen tap samples at these properties were below guideline values.

Once all tests from the water sampling program are completed, comparisons will be made with water sampling results previously undertaken by NSW Health, industry and the community. The EPA’s and NSW Health’s expert panels will consider the results.

Earlier this year, residents self-tested their tank water and found that, of the 68 samples, 15 were 10 times the safe lead level recommended by the Australian drinking water guidelines. As yet, there is no proven link between the mine and these complaints.

The EPA’s results come just days after a parliamentary inquiry was announced that will investigate the current and future impacts of gold, silver, lead and zinc mining on human health, as well as the effects on land, water and air quality. The inquiry will also examine regulatory framework, rehabilitation and decommissioning practices.

The EPA has also begun a separate extensive air monitoring program in the Cadia Valley.

In an update to investors earlier on Tuesday, Cadia’s owners, Newcrest, said a 12-month study conducted by the federal government’s Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation had found Cadia was meeting air quality standards for the mine’s surrounding region, and had highlighted that metals including lead, nickel, selenium and chromium did not exceed national standards, occurring at “very low levels”.

Mining inquiry to examine pollution impacts on health

July 26 2023: (Laura Chung)

The mining industry has been put on notice with a parliamentary inquiry to examine whether it is contaminating NSW residents and if regulations should be strengthened in response.

The NSW upper house inquiry will investigate the current and future impacts of gold, silver, lead and zinc mining on human health, as well as the effects on land, water and air quality.

The catalyst for the investigation arose from Central West residents’ concerns that pollution from the Cadia Mine – one of Australia’s largest gold mines, just outside Orange – was affecting their health, as reported by the Herald this month.

Some in the community believe dust from the mine has been allowed to drift across the region and pollute local drinking water. Residents tested their tank water earlier this year and found, of the 68 samples, 15 were 10 times the safe lead level recommended by the Australian drinking water guidelines.

Residents claim that children have broken out in rashes and their nails have become rough, ridged and slightly deformed. As yet, there is no proven link between the mine and these complaints.

A spokesperson for the Cadia Community Sustainability Network, a group that aims to work with the mine to find a way to live and work together, said the group welcomed the inquiry and looked forward to sharing their lived experiences.

Terms of reference for upper house inquiry

That Portfolio Committee No. 2 inquire into and report on current and future impacts of gold, silver, lead and zinc mining on human health, land, air and water quality in New South Wales, in particular:

a. The impact on the health of local residents and mine workers, including through biomagnification and bioaccumulation,

b. The impact on catchments and waterways, affecting both surface and groundwater destined for, local and town water supplies, including rainwater tanks, and on aquatic biodiversity,

c. The impact on land and soil, crops and livestock, including through biomagnification and bioaccumulation,

d. The adequacy of the response and any compliance action taken by the regulatory

authorities in response to complaints and concerns from communities affected by mining activities,

The effectiveness of the current regulatory framework in terms of monitoring, compliance, risk management and harm reduction from mining activities,

f. The effectiveness of current decommissioning and rehabilitation practices in safeguarding human health and the environment,

g. The effectiveness of New South Wales Government agencies to regulate and improve outcomes including:

  • the measurement, reporting and public awareness,
  • the provision of various protective materials,
  • the ability to ensure the health of at-risk groups
  • the suitability of work health and safety regulations, and  the capacity to respond within existing resources,
  • the adequacy of existing work, health and safety standards for workers,
  • whether the regulatory framework for heavy metals and critical minerals mining is fit for purpose and able to ensure that the positive and negative impacts of heavy metals and critical minerals mining on local communities, economies (including job creation) and the environment are appropriately balanced.

i. Any other related matters.

2. The committee reports on its findings by 21 November 2023.

An investigation by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) into the residents’ claims is ongoing, with the mine’s owner, Newcrest, separately addressing the matter. The EPA has previously threatened to suspend the mine’s licence when the agency found “an unacceptable level of dust” coming from the mine.

In an update to investors earlier on Tuesday, Newcrest said a 12-month study conducted by the federal government’s Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation had found Cadia was meeting air quality standards for the mine’s surrounding region, and had highlighted that metals including lead, nickel, selenium and chromium did not exceed national standards, occurring at “very low levels”.

A Newcrest spokesperson said in response to the announcement of the parliamentary inquiry that the company welcomed the chance to talk about its operations.

“Mining safely, responsibly and sustainably is what our communities expect of us and what we demand of ourselves. Health and safety isn’t an option for our company, it’s a pre-requisite,” the spokesperson said.

Chair of the inquiry and Greens MP Dr Amanda Cohn said the inquiry would “examine whether there is an appropriate balance between the mining activities undertaken in this state and the health and wellbeing of communities and environmental areas impacted by those activities”.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said she expected strong engagement from multiple communities facing the prospect of heavy mining nearby.

“With one gold mine and a silver and lead mine having recently been approved in regional NSW, we must ensure that every measure is taken to protect human health and the environment. If this can’t be guaranteed, then the mines should not progress,” she said.

“Our regulatory framework protects global mining companies more than it does local communities and the environment. This is clearly unacceptable, and I certainly hope that we’ll come up with some recommendations to redress this imbalance.”

Claims from the Cadia community have spooked residents in Lue, about 30 kilometres from Mudgee. In April, the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) approved a new silver, zinc and lead mine. The Bowdens Silver mine owner – Silver Mines Limited – is set to produce about 3.4 million ounces of silver a year, as well as 6900 tonnes of zinc and 5100 tonnes of lead. Nearby McPhillamys Gold Project has also received approval from the IPC.

Lue resident and fifth-generation farmer Tom Combes said the inquiry meant small communities were being heard.

“I am delighted that [we’re] finally getting some reaction. We are fighting huge companies that are raising money through hedge funds. We are [funding] it through cake stores and trivia stores. That’s just not a fair playing field. The government needs to get more involved.”

The inquiry will also examine regulatory framework, rehabilitation and decommissioning practices – an issue that will become increasingly important as mines and other fossil fuel-intensive projects across Australia wind down. In the Hunter Valley alone, about 17 coal mines may close in the next 20 years.

The Herald reported this month that, despite strict regulations, there are many gaps in the mining rehabilitation. Western Sydney University professor Ian Wright, who has worked with residents near Cadia to test their tank water independently, said the inquiry was welcome news.

“The whole country is littered with closed mines that have inadequate rehabilitation,” he said.

The inquiry will provide its findings by November 2023.

Newcrest’s lead contamination claims ‘inconsistent’ with expert report findings, its author says

July 21 2023: (Fleur Connick)

Prof Brian Gulson says Cadia Hill goldmine could not be ruled in or out as the source of the lead, despite miner saying there was ‘no evidence’

An expert who analysed rainwater samples for possible lead contamination from Newcrest’s Cadia Hill goldmine says the company’s public interpretation of his report is “inconsistent” with his findings.

Newcrest commissioned Prof Brian Gulson from Macquarie University to conduct a lead isotopic analysis of water and sediment samples taken from 145 residential properties in the region and compare those with the lead found in the mine’s ore.

Commissioning the independent analysis was one of the conditions of a variation to Newcrest’s mining licence, ordered by the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority in June as part of an investigation into emissions from the mine. It followed reports by some community members that independent testing of their water tanks had found high levels of heavy metals, including lead.

The samples were collected in March and April. Guardian Australia understands that Newcrest provided 88 sediment samples and 16 water samples – 12 from rainwater tanks and four from the kitchen tap – to the University of South Australia for lead isotopic fingerprinting, a tracing technique used to identify the possible sources of lead.

Newcrest said that only the water samples that returned readings for lead above the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines of 0.01mg/L were sent for isotopic fingerprinting.

Gulson’s report analysing those results was published last Friday.

In a press release on Wednesday, Newcrest said the report found “no evidence” linking Cadia to the lead in the samples. It also claimed the report said 74 of the 88 sediment or sludge samples had “no correlation” to the lead samples taken from Cadia’s ore.

The remaining 14 samples exhibited “similar characteristics” to the lead samples from the mine’s ore and soil in the district, Newcrest said. Those samples also “recorded the lowest concentration of lead amongst all the sludge samples”.

“It’s clear to us in the [report’s] conclusion that there is no evidence linking Cadia to the lead that was found in the samples in the tanks that we tested,” the Cadia Valley Operations general manager, Mick Dewar, told Guardian Australia.

He added that the company does “note and acknowledge” Gulson’s comments in the report that the lead characteristics of the mine’s ore and the lead found in regional soil samples “could not be discriminated”.

“In addition to that, it was noted that there were no other markers or pointers suggesting that Cadia could be linked, such as a higher propensity of concentrations close to the mine,” Dewar said.

“There was no relationship there that suggests that the inability to discriminate between those two characteristics was anything other than no tangible link.”

Gulson, who is an expert in lead analysis, said the “claim about ‘no evidence’ is inconsistent” with his findings.

It is also inconsistent with Newcrest’s own fact sheet on the report, which says that due to the overlapping signatures “the source [of lead] could not be determined”.

“The ore field [lead] signature is in 12 of the 13 soil samples,” Gulson said.

He recommended a more comprehensive soil lead isotope testing program should be undertaken, given the “dominant” lead signature from the mine.

“You need more information, more data to try and get that relationship between either the mining operations or the soil,” he said.

Gulson said the report’s findings were inconclusive but did not rule out a connection to the ore from the mine. Of the water samples analysed, nine of 12 rainwater tanks samples and one of four kitchen tap samples were found to have lead isotopes matching Cadia’s ore.

Of the 88 sediment samples, 14 matched the lead isotope from Cadia’s ore and 74 were found to be consistent with lead “derived from a mixture” of sources, including the mine’s ore, rocks and soil, and lead from other contaminants such as petrol, batteries and paint.

But Gulson said “there was not enough data or hardly any data” to determine the source of lead found in the tanks.

“The important thing is that there was the [lead] fingerprint in some of the sludge samples [that] coincided with the ore field signature, but that didn’t necessarily prove that it actually came from the ore samples themselves,” he said.

“You can’t distinguish whether or not it’s the signature coming from the ore, the mining operation or out of a vent … or whether it’s soil that’s blown in on to the roofs and then finished up in the sludge. And at the moment, you can’t really say which is which.”

Newcrest is yet to provide the EPA with the chemical analysis of samples taken from the mine’s main crusher dust vent. That report is due at the end of July.

Due to his concerns around the accuracy of data and methodology in the report, Gulson recommended measuring a suite of samples with more precise methods to validate the data already accumulated.

Dewar said that while the company is “actively reviewing and considering” Gulson’s recommendations, it is “not inclined to pursue” them.

He said the company was taking “a broader viewpoint” of concerns about its emissions.

“In terms of narrowing the focus down to Cadia’s contribution to that lead, we’re satisfied with Prof Gulson’s report, with the Todoroski air modelling, with the Ansto modelling, with our boundary PM 10 monitoring and TDS modelling, that there is no evidence supporting that link,” Dewar said.

Taken together, Dewar said, those studies “strongly suggest that there is no evidence that we are creating a risk” to the community’s health.

“We think we’ve done the work to demonstrate that now,” he said.

The EPA told Guardian Australia it was currently reviewing the report, which will inform its regulatory activity. “Where appropriate, we will seek advice from our recently established expert panel to inform any future monitoring,” a spokesperson said.

Cadia Gold Mine near Orange ordered to fix dust pollution after heavy metals found in locals’ blood, water

May 30 2023:

Cadia Gold Mine in central western New South Wales has been given a series of deadlines to show it is complying with its obligations to prevent air pollution.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has issued a final prevention notice, outlining the steps that must be taken to reduce emissions from the site and reassure the community.

The action was prompted by blood and water testing that was ordered by local residents and returned high levels of heavy metals like lead, nickel and selenium.

Cadia has just over a week to provide an interim report on emissions from an air vent which has been a cause of concern for residents.

It must then present a final report on sampling of this vent shaft two weeks later.

“The sampling within the vent has to be undertaken by highly trained skilled operators,” EPA executive director Carmen Dwyer said.

“That data will be provided to the EPA and we will draw our own conclusions from that data.”

The details of the final pollution prevention notice have heartened the local community but residents say they are concerned about the sampling methods being used.

“The community now has a timeline to watch and observe and see what the reports and the results come back as,” Cadia Community Sustainability Network chair Gem Green said.

“There are still a few muddy areas of who’s collecting what and how that will be processed and how that will be reported on.

“We’ll be keeping in close touch with the EPA to get a more definitive interpretation of how that will be done.”

District monitoring

The mine must simultaneously review its existing air sampling network and produce a report identifying suitable locations for more units to be installed in the district.

Ms Dwyer said the air monitoring sites would be decided in consultation with Cadia and the community.

“We have a look at dispersion modelling and climatic modelling and we talk to our experts about where that should occur,” she said.

“We’re also talking with the community to understand from their perspective with their local knowledge where should some of this stuff happen.

“The EPA is looking at what monitoring needs to occur within the community and sampling to provide that assurance to the community that are living with clean air and clean water.”

Health concerns

The Cadia Community Sustainability Network said many residents were still concerned about what to do to protect their health while the mine was given time to comply with its regulatory obligations.

“Health-wise, people are still very unsure what to do … we’re obviously encouraging them to get a health assessment conducted,” Ms Green said.

“We’re probably in a little touch of no man’s land at the moment, just with different government agencies sort of speaking with the community, and in the short term the community does need its water tanks cleaned and refilled.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Cadia Gold Mine said it was cooperating with the EPA and already had work in progress to ensure it complied with the prevention notice.

“We do not compromise on people’s health and safety and remain firmly committed to meeting all our obligations in a way that is aligned with our values,” the spokesperson said.

EPA holds information session for residents as Cadia heavy metal contamination probe begins

May 23 2023:

One day after announcing an investigation into Cadia Valley gold mine, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has held a community information session in the village of Millthorpe, New South Wales.

More than 40 residents attended after learning that heavy metals had been discovered in people’s drinking water and bloodstreams.

Representatives from the EPA and NSW Health were on hand to hear concerns and provide advice at the session, which EPA chief executive Tony Chappel said was “extremely valuable”.

“They were appreciative we were there to listen to their concerns and discuss the actions we’re taking into the mine and their activities,” he said.

Most came seeking practical answers, including young mum Kayley Woods-Pendergast.

“I was wanting to know, are we safe to shower in [the water]?” she said.

As the mother of a toddler, Mrs Woods-Pendergast is especially concerned about exposure to lead.

She said she appreciated the session but hoped there would be more support to follow.

“I think what they’re doing today is a great start, but I think there’s definitely more they could be doing,” Mrs Woods-Predergast said.

For some, the opportunity to get tested was particularly important.

Stephanie Luke drove from Bathurst to learn how her rain-fed drinking water supply could be tested.

She said she had experienced unexplained health issues for several years.

“I’m quite curious about whether it’s got to do with environmental elements,” Ms Luke said.

“I’m about to have my water tested and I’m getting my bloods tested as well.”

Ms Luke was surprised companies such as Cadia were not legally required to submit weekly air pollution reports and said she felt let down by regulators.

“To hear stories of people, at their own expense, dragging authorities kicking and screaming and [for] the company to acknowledge that there’s an issue, I feel like we’re in some bizarre backwater,” she said.

Russell, who asked that his surname not be published, was only made aware there was an issue in his district that morning.

Because his household relies exclusively on rainwater, he was eager to arrange water tests that would establish a baseline for the quality of his drinking water.

Russell felt grateful for transparency the event gave the community.

“[That] we can have opportunities like this and find out from the people who are the checks and balances what’s going on, what’s proposed and if there’s a role that we can have to help, so that we’re not stopping progress, but that the progress is responsible,” he said.

EPA to probe Cadia gold mine after heavy metals found in residents’ blood, rainwater

May 22 2023:

When her daughter started suffering severe skin reactions, Sophie Reynolds tried everything to try to ease the symptoms and find the source.

Ms Reynolds says the sores on her 10-year-old extended across her face and behind her ears.

Simultaneously, the family had been noticing plumes of dust blow onto their property from the direction of the Cadia gold mine near Orange, New South Wales.

When the family had the drinking water from the rainwater tank tested high levels of lead were found.

“As soon as we got those results, I said ‘I am not touching that water,'” Ms Reynolds said.

She started buying bottled water and travelled to Orange to shower and do laundry.

“Two days after I started washing [my daughter’s] face with the town water, the redness went,” Ms Reynolds said.

“Some of the sores were so deep, it took a week and a half [to heal].”

The Reynoldses are among a group of residents living near Cadia Valley Operations (CVO) who have been concerned about dust lifting off the site since 2018.

A section of wall on one of CVO’s tailings storages facility, which holds mining by-products, sustained damage in the same year.

In 2021 the mine’s expansion plans were approved and it vowed to make improvements to address concerns about dust.

Dozens of families have now had their blood and rainwater tested and the results show high levels of heavy metals such as lead, nickel and selenium.

‘It’s water vapour’

On Monday, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) announced it has launched an investigation into the mine.

The EPA has issued a draft pollution prevention notice and a draft licence variation regarding the emission of dust and other pollutants from the site.

Chief executive Tony Chappel said he had also written to the NSW chief health officer asking for a full health-risk analysis to determine whether the mine dust was impacting the community’s health.

“Industry has strict obligations to meet clean air standards and currently Cadia appears to be falling well short of our expectations,” Mr Chappel said.

“Last week the EPA received new evidence from the community to suggest actions by the mine to reduce dust pollution have not been effective.”

The notices require the mine to retest a vent and extend an ambient air sampling network.

The EPA has given CVO until Tuesday to respond to the draft notices.

In a statement, Cadia’s acting general manager, Mick Dewar, said the company took seriously the concerns raised by members of the community.

“Nothing is more important than people’s health and safety, and we remain firmly committed to making sure that we meet all of our statutory obligations and do it in a way that is aligned with our values,” Mr Dewar said.

He said the mine had already started a human health risk assessment, a drinking water sampling program, a lead testing program and 12-month dust fingerprinting program through the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

Mr Reynolds said he was previously assured by CVO that there was no dust pollution.

“The constant comment back was, ‘It’s water vapour, Bruce,'” he said.

The Reynolds family’s blood tests showed high levels of the heavy metal selenium.

“I am so worried about the future for my daughter and for all the children around here,” Ms Reynolds said.

“All the families — you’ve got babies, you’ve got pregnant women.

“We can’t stop breathing — we know it’s landing on our roof, because it’s in the air.”

‘It’s horrendous’

The ABC has seen blood test results from several other residents who live near CVO.

The most common elevated heavy metals are selenium and nickel.

Jann Harries, whose property is one of the closest to CVO, says the community’s relationship with the mine has deteriorated in recent years because of the dust.

“[You can] taste, smell and see the dust,” she said.

“It comes over the valley — you can see it coming across the hill behind us.

“Windows are open and we get a dust cover on the benches.

“It’s horrendous.”

Lead has also been found in Ms Harries’s water tank and her blood tests showed elevated levels of selenium.

She is still waiting for more results from additional tests.

“Currently I’m OK, I feel OK,” Ms Harries said.

“Yes, I’ve got some lead and some selenium, but I feel that I’m not at risk at this point of time.”

Community-led rainwater testing near Orange finds one in three tanks have unsafe lead levels

NSW Health is retesting water after residents raised concerns about elevated traces of heavy metals, which they worry is linked to Cadia goldmine

More than a third of the water samples taken from rainwater tanks near Orange as part of a citizen survey and tested by an independent laboratory showed lead results above the safe levels in the Australian drinking water guidelines.

Those results are now being re-tested by New South Wales Health in an effort to determine if there is a broader public health risk. NSW Health has not provided any updates about those test results or said whether they confirm the results of the initial testing.

Seventy-one samples from regional properties in central western NSW were analysed in a Sydney laboratory over summer after a number of residents raised concerns about the safety of their household water supplies. Twenty-seven indicated lead levels above the national guidelines.

The concerns were first flagged in response to dust clouds at the Newcrest Cadia goldmine. All samples are from properties located within 15km of the mine which do not have access to town water.

The sampling program was coordinated by the Cadia Community Sustainability Network (CCSN) with the support of Dr Ian Wright, a University of Western Sydney researcher, as part of a community science study into the impacts of the mine on water quality.

In a statement to Guardian Australia, a spokesperson for CCSN said they received results in February that “showed some rainwater tanks seemed to have accumulated heavy metal in the bottom of the tank”.

They then sent the initial samples plus a few more to a different laboratory to be tested again.

“This scoping exercise confirmed the preliminary results,” the statement said. “In total we have now tested 40 residents in the district.

“We have provided the information to the Environmental Protection Agency and NSW Health. NSW Health is planning to retest the pilot study to determine next steps.”

Wright told Guardian Australia the source of the contamination had not been confirmed, but that the lead levels were such that he recommended they seek further testing.

“The results are just gobsmacking,” he said. “There are children drinking this stuff.”

One sample showed lead levels that were 84 times the safe level of 0.01mg/L in the Australian drinking water guidelines.

Two of the samples contained traces of arsenic. A number also contained high levels of copper and zinc, but not above the drinking water guidelines.

Wright said the source of the contamination was a secondary concern.

“The primary question is a human health question,” he said. “Should there be a public health warning issued? Should people be drinking this water?”

Some of the initial 71 samples were of water collected from farm shed roofs, Wright said. Cross-contamination from farming chemicals and machinery had not been ruled out.

NSW Health last week confirmed it had been contacted by residents who were concerned about their water supply and environmental health officers had begun collecting samples of rainwater that serves as private household water supplies, which will be tested at government-approved laboratories.

But it stressed it does not have a role in investigating where the contaminants may have come from, and that management of private water supplies – which includes household rainwater tanks – was the responsibility of the property holder.

Because the results concern private water sources, they will not be released unless a broad public health risk is identified.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also confirmed it had received a complaint but said it did not comment on ongoing investigations.

Newcrest is also conducting sampling and sending water to be tested at ALS Laboratories, which are providing results directly back to both residents and the mining company.

“Some residents have started receiving their test results directly from the independent experts undertaking the testing,” a spokesperson said. “Tests show drinking water is safe for those who have received their results so far. We are still waiting for the remaining results and analysis of the large scale testing program to come through over the next couple of weeks.”

Earlier, Newcrest said allegations of dust contamination from the mine did not match its own monitoring and stressed that the cause was “currently unknown”.

CCSN said it was hoping to undertake isotope testing of the heavy metals found in the samples, which may help narrow down its origin.

“The CCSN isn’t attributing blame for this contamination until it can be clearly identified where the source has come from,” the spokesperson said. “We hope that NSW Health and the EPA will quickly determine some clear next steps for the community.”

Wright said it was possible that old water pipes and tanks could be the source of some of the metals seen in the samples, particularly copper and zinc. Lead has not been used in water pipes in Australian homes since the 1930s and the use of a lead-based solder on drinking water pipes has been banned since 1989.

NSW Health to test for heavy metal contamination in private rainwater tanks near regional goldmine

Newcrest Mining says reports of contamination do not match its monitoring data from Cadia goldmine near Orange

Health authorities are conducting water testing after residents reported heavy metal contamination in some household rainwater tanks near the Cadia goldmine in western New South Wales.

Representatives from NSW Health attended a community meeting hosted by the Cadia Community Sustainability Network on Sunday, after a number of people who live near the mine had their rainwater tested. Residents suggested that dust from the mine had settled on their roofs and been washed into tanks.

Most properties within a 15km radius of the mine, which is about 22km from Orange, rely on rainwater for their potable water supply.

A spokesperson for Newcrest Mining, which operates the goldmine, said it had been told about some water testing results from some residents but that the contamination did not correlate with the results of their own air quality monitoring programs.

Western NSW Local Health District said it “does not conduct investigations into environmental or ecological factors which may broadly affect the management of water collected privately, including rainwater”, but that it was assisting residents with testing their household tanks.

“Following independent testing not conducted by NSW Health, the community has raised concern with the District’s PHU [public health unit] regarding the safety and quality of privately collected drinking water at a number of private residences south of Orange,” a spokesperson said.

“The District will conduct additional sampling and testing of the drinking water at a number of those residences supplied only by rainwater, to assist residents in identifying any potential contamination which could pose a health risk.

“Should the District’s testing return results outside the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines at any residence, the PHU will provide support and advice to assess and identify immediate sources of contamination and rectify any issues of concern.”

It added that management of private water supplies such as rainwater tanks was ultimately the responsibility of the householder.

Newcrest said the cause of the contamination was “currently unknown”. It has commissioned a third party to test some of the affected tanks.

“We were made aware that some members of the local community recently undertook self-testing on their drinking water tanks that has shown elevated levels of contaminants,” a company spokesperson said.

“We’ve been part of the community for many years and are taking what we have been told seriously, as historical monitoring data shared with the community and regulator does not appear to correlate with what we have been told.”

The company said it wanted to work with the community but stressed that any support it was offering locals who say their water has been affected was in line with support it would ordinarily offer its neighbours.

Guardian Australia understands Cadia offered to arrange a laundry service and to deliver drinking water to one resident, who reported feeling unsafe using their tank water after tests ordered by the resident showed significantly elevated levels of lead and other contaminants.

“Like others, we want to understand what is behind the findings and want to work with the community to do this,” the spokesperson said. “This is our focus and a critical step to ensure the appropriate course of action can be determined, rather than determining actions based on what may or may not be the cause, which is currently unknown.”

The company was fined $15,000 by the EPA last year for failing to maintain appropriate levels of dust mitigation from its tailings storage facilities. At the time, the EPA said it had received “numerous notifications by residents of dust lift events visible from their homes”.