Arsenic dust concerns raised in Bendigo

WOODVALE PONDS: Groundwater rising through Bendigo's network of underground mines was previously pumped into evaporation ponds.
WOODVALE PONDS: Groundwater rising through Bendigo's network of underground mines was previously pumped into evaporation ponds.

Has the Woodvale community been exposed to arsenic-contaminated dust from evaporation ponds built to hold water rising through Bendigo’s vast network of underground mines?  

That’s the question Bendigo and District Environmental Council spokesperson Simon Perrin said government regulators dodged last week.

And with summer conditions likely to dry out the ponds and raise more dust, he said it was one which demanded an answer. 

Mr Perrin said he was “stunned” by the decision of the GBM Gold Environmental Review Comittee not to discuss concerning dust monitoring results which he said had remained unresolved for 18 months.

“With ‘dust season’ soon to be upon us, whilst some dust results are suggestive that arsenic is leaving the Woodvale pond site the results have yet to be verified or rejected by the regulators,” Mr Perrin said.

“One would imagine [health and environment regulators would be] particularly interested in getting to the bottom of questionable results, but apparently not.” 

But a Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources spokesperson said the item was not discussed as it was not on the agenda. 

The spokesperson cited an expert study into the water quality and dust issues near the Woodvale Evaporation Pond site concluded – ‘there is no definitive evidence that the Woodvale Evaporation Pond Complex is significantly impacting surrounding soils or residential tank water quality via off-site dust migration’.

“At the meeting of the GBM Gold Environment Review Committee on 22 November, the ERC members agreed on the agenda for the day's meeting at the outset,” the spokesperson said.

“The agenda included a number of items, including matters surrounding administrative processes related to the interim chairperson, the process for appointing a permanent chairperson and the functioning of the committee.

“On the day, discussion of these matters took up the allocated time for the meeting and the committee voted and agreed to consider matters about environmental test results at the next meeting.” 

The next ERC meeting is scheduled for 24 January 2017.

Environment Protection Authority Victoria north west regional manager Scott Pigdon also said the committee was bound by procedure.

“The possible discussion of test results from the Woodvale Ponds was raised by an observer at the meeting, but as the meeting had run past its scheduled closure, the committee voted to carry the item forward to the next meeting scheduled on 24 January,” Mr Pigdon said. 

“The results of tests are continually discussed as an ongoing concern at ERC meetings. 

“The community is welcome to query the results and these can be directed to the mine and then discussed at ERC meetings in the future.” 

A spokesperson for GBM Gold denied Mr Perrin’s concerns were ignored at the meeting. 

“The background to this is that Dr Simon Perrin, a local activist, was at the ERC on Tuesday, he is not a member, his question was from the gallery and was not on the agenda,” the spokesperson said. 

“The meeting was running over time when Dr Perrin asked his question.  The committee decided to hold the question over to the January meeting, he was not ignored.”

The spokesperson said the next meeting would also see a new ERC chair appointed. 

“With Cr Peter Cox losing his seat at the Council Election in October it was necessary to find another chairperson,” the spokesperson said. 

“GBM found an interim chairperson for this meeting. 

“The ERC discussed the appointment of a permanent chairperson and determined that it would hold a special meeting on 24 January 2017 to appoint a chairperson.”