Both sides of debate welcome EPA report

September 15, 2015

BOTH sides of the debate over Iluka’s mineral sands waste disposal at Douglas have welcomed a report from a community conference run by Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority.

An independent facilitator ran the ‘Section 20B’ conference in Balmoral late last month to hear community concerns about the proposal to continue dumping millions of tonnes of mine waste at Iluka’s former mine site.

The waste, which includes low level radioactive waste in the form of naturally occurring elements, will be transported from Hamilton’s Mineral Separation Plant to the site located about 85 kilometres north.

The EPA conference report made 23 recommendations across three categories: what Iluka should do before its planning application is reviewed by Horsham Rural City Council (HRCC); what it should do if a permit is granted; and what it should do regardless of whether it gets approval.

The report stated that Iluka should implement greater groundwater and stormwater modelling, along with greater monitoring of bores and radioactive gas emissions.

Iluka should also “specify what materials can be disposed … and enforce

The recommendations also included four actions Iluka should take to “improve community understanding and alleviate health and environmental concerns”.

Iluka said in a statement that it “welcomes the report”.

“The company is currently considering the report and notes that several of its recommendations are clearly addressed either by the proposal documents submitted by Iluka to the EPA and HRCC, or by the routine regulation of current operational activities.

“The company is proposing continuation of a practice that has been occurring, regulated and accepted at Douglas for a decade and looks forward to progression of the approvals process.”

The EPA’s decision on Iluka’s works approval application is expected in October but the HRCC decision on the planning permit may take longer, possibly into next year.

Kanagulk Landcare Group member Ian Ross said he thought the EPA conference was “a good first step but it should have happened about five or six years ago.”

“We should have had a conference before the 2009 work plan variation,” he said, referring to a prior application Iluka made that significantly expanded its waste disposal at Douglas.

“The conference facilitator did a very good job of summing things up.”

Mr Ross welcomed the report’s recommendation that agencies involved establish a common ground for radiation standards and communicate their relevance in “plain English”.

“Then we can go to ARPANSA (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency) and ask if Iluka are in compliance,” Mr Ross

“The Health Department (of Victoria) has been all over the shop, it has not been consistent.”

Another of the recommendations is that it “consider whether lining Pit 23 is a feasible option”.

Pit 23 is the main disposal area nominated as part of the planning permit application.

Mr Ross said he “definitely” supported that recommendation as Pit 23 should have had a “lining, at minimum”.

“Given the material that is to be dumped, Iluka should always have had a lining,” he said.

“There should have been a water board inquiry.”

During the EPA conference, Kangulk Landcare Group members called for Iluka to use another former mine site, ‘Echo’, for waste dumping instead of its Douglas facility.

The Echo site, near Nurrabiel, is about a 34-kilometre drive north-east of Douglas.

“Echo site has no interaction with the water table,” Mr Ross said.

“It is away from significant assets. It is 20 to 30 kilometres away from the Wimmera River.

“There is enough room for all the waste. I don’t want to push the issue onto another community but it would be a better site.”