What you don’t know can still hurt you

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Feature Story - 21 November, 2012
Today could be a dirty day for clean water in Queensland because the Queensland Parliament will hear from an inquiry into new legislation being rushed through by the Newman Government – legislation that could see levels of pollution in Queensland’s rivers soar.
Peak Downs©Greenpeace/B.Cerise

The legislation includes a new mechanism to allow coal mining companies to rapidly gain approval to dump pollution in Queensland rivers beyond agreed safe levels. Regardless of whether the new laws get passed four coal mines owned by the BHP-Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) will be allowed to do that this wet season anyway, because last week, the Government gave them new pollution licences, dramatically weakening environmental protections, and raising the allowed level of contamination in water they pump into public creeks.

The government has doubled the level of salt that they’ll allow to flow down the Isaac River.

The loosening of salinity controls can cause immediate impacts on the environment, like death of vegetation, and poor health for people and stock, depending on the level of pollution. More insidiously, there’s a broader list of contaminants - heavy metals - for which monitoring is even more lax and control effectively non-existent.

Here are some other details of the new pollution permits for the BMA mines:

  • All four have had conditions limiting permitted salinity in creeks and rivers receiving their dirty water relaxed.
  • Three out of four are now permitted to dump highly saline water during lower flow rates than previously – meaning, the overall level of salinity in the river is likely to go up.
  • Restrictions on the turbidity of the water they’re dumping have been removed.
  • The requirement to directly monitor or limit the level of sulphate in discharged water has been removed for three of the mines.

The contaminant limits for stored water have been removed from the licences altogether, as has the requirement to monitor the contamination levels of stored water. One major concern is that it doesn’t appear that communities downstream will be warned about these discharges: the only time anyone will know if their river has been seriously contaminated will be after BMA has already done the damage - when their test results come back and they let the Government know.

The new laws Deputy Premier, Jeff Seeney, is trying to rush through parliament will make loose pollution controls lax and poor transparency even worse. There will be no requirement for the Government to publish a decision to allow a mining company to pollute a river beyond safe levels, and there has been no publication of any chemical analysis of the water that BHP is already now permitted to send into the Fitzroy system.

Sign the petition now to call on Premier Newman not to loosen pollution laws for coal mining companies.

Read more details about the loose environmental conditions now in place for four Bowen Basin mines.