Further concerns as polluted mine water is pumped directly onto the beach
Untreated mine water is being pumped directly onto the beach in a newly designated conservation area, which has alarmed environmentalists, who claim that the water is polluted with high levels of iron and manganese.
A short term permit was issued by the Environment Agency (EA) to the Coal Authority (CA) to pump water from the old Hauxley mine shaft, in order to assess water levels and quality.
But environmentalists are concerned that the untreated mine water will pose a hazard to local marine life. Levels of manganese in the water taken from the mine shaft at the end of August reached 0.81mg per litre, which greatly exceeds environmental quality standards.
Professor Dickon Howell, ex-Chief Scientific Advisor at the Marine Management Organisation and a resident of High Hauxley said: “The levels of manganese as reported to The Ambler by the Coal Authority would exceed UK environmental water quality standards by some way if they were constant throughout the year.”
After discussions with the CA, Prof Howell was informed that the current test is to confirm whether there are any blockages in the mining system. This would mean that the pumping station at Low Hauxley would not lower ground water levels throughout the mining block.
He told The Ambler: “They are also measuring contamination levels and this information is going to inform a feasibility study to set out options for how the CA may manage rising minewaters in the area in the future.”
New conservation area
The stretch of the Northumberland coast is already a designated Marine Conservation Zone, and in September was given Marine Special Protection Area (SPA) status.
Tom Stewart of the Green Party said “To be putting this contaminated water into the sea without proper filtration or treatment is insane – the health of our coast and inshore waters is critical to the future economy of Northumberland. This mine water has extremely high levels of manganese, which can be absorbed by crabs and other shellfish, and may then enter the food chain – manganese is a known toxin, and can cause symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease.”
The Ambler asked both the CA and EA if the public should be concerned at the levels of heavy metals in the water being pumped out onto a public beach.
A spokesperson for the CA said: “The quality of the water being pumped is very similar to that which was discharged at the outfall during the opencast operations. As the water is only moderately mineralised, treatment was not considered necessary during that mining period.
“The volumes of water being discharged during this test are also significantly lower than those which were pumped during opencast operations. A technical report concluded that the pumping test will not adversely affect the environmentally protected sites in the local area.”
A spokesperson for the EA said: “We are working with the Coal Authority and Natural England to monitor the impact of this outfall. It will operate for a short duration, and give all the relevant parties opportunity to assess environment risks, plan for the long term and safeguard our environment”.
Water testing undertaken by NIFCA
NIFCA told The Ambler that as soon as they were aware of the situation, they met with the relevant agencies. Chair Les Weller commented: “It is vital in respect of works carried out where there is pumping of water of this nature from old mine working into the sea, that there is no damage to the marine environment or the species that live there. In that respect NIFCA officers have been diligent in researching the position and corresponding with our partner agencies. Our officers will also continue to carry out tests in the area, particularly fish sampling, to seek assurance that there is no harm being caused to marine life as the water pumping continues.”
The argument between the CA and local environmentalists over whether high levels of manganese found in water samples originates from old mine workings has been going on for some time. Back in April, The Ambler ran the story of areas of flooding and quicksand at Hauxley, which it was claimed were polluted and were a direct result from the area’s mining history. But the CA disputed whether the old mine workings were connected to incidents of bubbling quicksand and to heavy metals present in groundwater. As a result of ongoing enquiries, the CA and EA promised to undertake tests and assess both the levels and the quality of the water.