At the October meeting of Oatley Flora and Fauna Conservation Society, Dr Ian Wright from the University of Western Sydney (UWS) presented startling evidence of environmental damage caused by coal mining in the Sydney Region. Dr Wright worked as a scientific officer with Sydney Water investigating the impact of human activities on creeks and rivers in the Sydney basin before taking up a research fellowship at UWS in freshwater ecology and water pollution.
Ian is now a full-time lecturer teaching students in water quality and management, environmental planning and environmental regulation areas. Conducting his research on a limited budget and often faced with a hostile reception from mining interests in the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands, Dr Wright and his students have persevered, comparing water samples taken upstream of mining activity with those down stream. They have found significant deterioration in water quality attributable to waste water discharge from mining operations. Toxic levels of salt, bicarbonate, zinc, nickel and other minerals have impacted on aquatic life and degraded the waters flowing through prized wilderness areas and World Heritage sites.
Long-wall mining, in particular, is responsible for subsidence in the bedrock of some creeks and streams feeding into Sydney’s water catchments. Dr Wright showed photographic evidence of streams simply disappearing into cracks, only to re-emerge further ‘downstream’ polluted by mining waste. Dr Wright was critical of the Environmental Protection Agency, responsible for regulating the discharge of wastewater from mines. Pollution licence conditions need to be tightened requiring mining companies to meet higher standards, although he conceded the regulator had lifted its game recently but only under pressure from the community and, in turn, government.
Asked how Oatley Flora & Fauna Conservation Society members could help to stop mining companies from causing environmental damage, Dr Wright suggested the best way would be to keep the pressure on our politicians to introduce more stringent rules on mining activities. Dr Wright gave an undertaking to keep the Society informed of future developments in the regulation of the coal industry.