Coal ash a threat to health across Australia

Communities around the entire nation are at ‘serious risk’ from poorly managed coal ash waste – a toxic by-roduct of coal-fired power plants – according to new research released by not for profit group Environmental Justice Australia.

The report unearths ‘shocking flaws in the management and regulation of coal ash’ dumps across the country.

“Coal ash is an enormous toxic legacy issue for Australia that largely flies under the radar, despite it being one of Australia’s biggest waste problems and a huge risk to human and environmental health,” report author and Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Bronya Lipski said.

“Lax government regulation and poor management of coal ash dumps has led to the contamination of groundwater, rivers, lakes and aquatic ecosystems as well as toxic air pollution from dried out dumps.

The report also makes recommendations for national best practice management and regulation and provides communities with information to be used when engaging with regulators and operators about coal ash dump issues that affect them.

State Parliaments need to initiate inquiries into ash dumps to comprehensively investigate the current and future threat, make sure rigorous solutions are determined to clean up contamination, and start planning for rehabilitation and closure that adheres to best practice standards,” Bronya Lipski concluded.

There are coal ash dumps in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Most Australian power stations dispose of ash in the most environmentally harmful way – as wet sludge into predominately unlined dump sites, or directly into mines.

  • According to the US EPA, the extent of contamination from ash dump sites doesn’t reveal itself for some 70 – 100 years after the site became operational.

  • There is no entirely safe way to dispose of coal ash, only a less harmful method which needs careful management including keeping it dry, in a thoroughly lined dump site, well away from surface and groundwater.

  • Conditions for ash dump management differ from state-to-state, and in each state, from power station to power station.

  • There is no best-practice management standard for ash dumps in any state, or at a national level.

  • There is no requirement that power station operators prepare ash dump rehabilitation, closure and post-closure plans well before closure of the power station occurs.

  • Access to information about ash dumps is extremely limited, including access to groundwater monitoring data and ash management plans which have to be acquired through Freedom of Information laws.

  • The only state that requires financial assurances be held for ash dumps is Victoria.

The full report can be found here

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