Environmental watchdog slaps Australia’s largest gold mine with maximum fine over dust pollution


The New South Wales’ environmental watchdog has fined Australia’s largest gold mine for not doing enough to stop dust pollution from affecting neighbouring residents.

Cadia Hill gold mine, near Orange, has been forced to pay $15,000 for failing to ensure dust did not lift off two of its storage facilities that hold tailings, which are the by-products of mining.

In April, the state’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) investigated residents’ complaints that airborne particles had blown off the mine’s northern tailings dam.

It said Cadia had applied a cover of hydromulch to control the dust, but found the company had not maintained effective coverage of the suppressant on the tailings facilities.

Hydromulch is a hydraulic technique of applying a mixture of organic material with a binding chemical, fertilisers and seed as a slurry in water to rehabilitate disturbed ground.

Director regulatory operations at EPA Cate Woods said it was not the first time concerns had been raised.

She described the failure as a “serious matter”.

“The EPA has received numerous notifications by residents of dust lift events visible from their homes,” she said.

Nearby residents have captured photographs of dust lifting off the mine’s tailings dam in the past, including this image from April 2020.(Supplied: Gemma Green)

The EPA said the dust pollution had occurred because the tailings facilities had dried out after a dam wall separating the two storages suffered a “catastrophic failure” in 2018.

“Although the EPA has taken other action related to these events, a need for deterrence is required,” Ms Woods said.

Dust hovers in a valley.
Residents say there have been multiple dust events at the mine.(Supplied: Gemma Green)

Warning from watchdog

The $15,000 fine is the largest the EPA can issue under its legislation.

Ms Woods has warned that more action will be taken if the mine continues to flout the rules.

“Cadia Valley Operations must do better to manage its impact on the surrounding community if its wants to avoid an escalation in regulatory action by the EPA,” she said.

The mine has previously assured the community that the dust poses no risk to public health.

The ABC has contacted Cadia Gold Mine for a response.

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