The state’s mining regulator has refused a mining company an extension to apply dust suppression measures at the evaporation ponds at Woodvale, where residents hold concerns that dust containing arsenic continues to blow off the site.
GBM Gold received two notices from Earth Resources Regulation to control dust on a total of five ponds at the site, the first in December.
Earth Resources Regulation’s second notice was issued on January 15, and the agency then confirmed it was investigating an allegation that two ponds at the site dried out.
GBM Gold was given until January 30 to comply with this notice, but the company said it needed more time to fulfill its obligations and requested an extension to February 14.
Earth Resources Regulation executive director Anthony Hurst said the agency declined this request.
“We’re investigating this matter, along with an investigation into an alleged breach of the first notice, which required water levels to be maintained in three other ponds,” Mr Hurst said.
“This action is necessary to protect public safety and the environment until the site is rehabilitated.”
Read more: Arsenic dust concerns raised in Bendigo
In response to Earth Resources Regulation, GBM Gold said dust monitoring data showed the pond site was not a net contributor to the “dustiness” of the area, and nor was it a net contributor to arsenic in the atmosphere.
GBM Gold said pond six’s apron – the area above the high water mark – was a potential source of dust, but over the past two years there had been significant vegetation growth.
The company said water was pumped into the pond over winter to ensure the water level was as high as possibly going into the warmer months.
The pond was “scraped clean of salts and metals in 2008” and had held only rainwater and treated water since, GBM Gold said in its response.
GBM Gold did not respond to the Bendigo Advertiser’s enquiry as to why it requested an extension.
There are long-standing concerns among residents of the area about the presence of toxic materials like arsenic in the dust, and some claim GBM Gold has failed to properly manage dust at the ponds site.
Vanessa Richardson, a Woodvale resident and member of GBM Gold’s environmental review committee, said the site had been left dry and exposed to winds for three consecutive summers.
An environmental audit of the site last year found there was significant areas of exposed earth and salt that could give rise to dust, which would potentially lead to off-site issues without effective management.
But the auditor was largely confident in GBM Gold’s rehabilitation plan and its capacity to reduce environmental risks at the site.
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