One of the largest goldmines in the world has been ordered to take immediate action or face further regulatory action after test results showed the mine’s main vent is releasing “an unacceptable level of dust”.
The New South Wales Environment Protection Authority said on Wednesday it told Newcrest’s Cadia mine that it must comply immediately with the Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation 2022, the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, and its environment protection licence.
It comes one month after the EPA launched its investigation into the Cadia Hill goldmine in central west NSW, after dozens of local residents, including children, reported blood tests with high levels of selenium, nickel and copper.
The test results, provided by Cadia on 6 June, were in response to the EPA’s previous prevention notice issued to Newcrest late last month regarding its management of “emissions of dust and other pollutants”.
The EPA chief executive officer, Tony Chappel, said Newcrest’s Cadia mine continued to fall well short of its legal obligations to meet clean air standards.
“We know this is strong action, but we will not shy away from doing what we must to prioritise human health and the environment,” he said.
“We require the mine to take all necessary steps to ensure dust emissions are significantly reduced and this may include a reduction in production.”
Chappel said if Newcrest cannot show its subsidiary, Cadia Holdings Pty Ltd, is taking immediate action to comply, the EPA will take appropriate action which could include suspension of the licence, seeking court orders or issuing further directions.
The EPA said several new conditions had also been included in the licence variation to address community and environmental concerns about impacts on air quality. Cadia would be required to do a number of things including undertaking vent emission monitoring regularly and providing additional reports on lead dust fingerprinting research, an analysis of dust impacts and sources, an independent health risk analysis, and an updated air quality impact assessment.
An estimated 1,000 people who live within a 15km radius of the mine and rely on rainwater for drinking could have heavy metals in their water supply.
The EPA said it would continue conducting its free rainwater testing for residents living near the mine as part of its broader monitoring program. It follows five rounds of water testing in an independent laboratory as part of a citizen survey, organised and led by the Cadia Community Sustainability Network. In March NSW Health and Newcrest also conducted their own testing.
“We’ve been working closely with the community and recently begun household rainwater tank testing for residents and are in the process of implementing a comprehensive ambient air monitoring program,” Chappel said.
“We will continue taking all necessary steps to ensure residents are confident their health is being protected.”
The EPA said it would continue to provide support and information to the Cadia community as the investigation continued, and the Department of Planning and Environment was separately investigating whether the company had complied with conditions of consent in relation to ventilation shafts.
A Newcrest spokesperson said: “We take our environmental obligations and the concerns raised by the EPA seriously and will take action to comply with the licence variation notice. We are a longstanding member of the community and remain firmly committed to meeting all of our statutory obligations in a way that is aligned with our values.”