Farmer fears poisoned Dee could 'kill' Fitzroy

DENIS George peers into the deadly chemical cocktail that stains Mt Morgan and dares to think the unthinkable.

“What would happen if the 10,000 megalitres of acid and heavy metals in the open cut pit are released into the Dee River?” he asks.

Then he answers his own question: “It will destroy Rockhampton's water supply and kill the Fitzroy system.”

After more than 20 years of research into the threat posed by the poison in the pit, he adds chillingly: “I don't think it's a matter of if. It's a question of when.”

The lucerne farmer's Dululu property is on the Dee River - widely accepted to be the most polluted in Australia because of the legacy of more than 100 years of gold mining at Mount Morgan.

So his interest in the ability of the pit to retain its lethal contents is understandable.

He believes the pit could overflow after a couple of good downpours. But while that would be an environmental disaster he fears there would be an unprecedented catastrophe if one of the pit's porous walls were to collapse.

“There's always some leakage because the sides of the pit were never intended to act as a dam. They are being eaten away by the chemicals and they are under tremendous pressure,” he says.

Denis thinks the only guaranteed way to avoid a disaster is to empty the pit and rehabilitate the entire mine site.

But that, he concedes, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and that's why he believes state and federal authorities are shying away from their responsibilities.

“Rehabilitation would be expensive, but what's the potential cost of not doing it?

“Only when people wake up to the threat and demand something is done about it will we see the necessary action,” he said.

“The pit is four metres from overflowing, the wall leaks like a sieve and could fail at any time.”

A spokesman for Queensland Mines and Energy said yesterday there were a number of measures in place to ensure acid and tailings at Mount Morgan did not pose a danger to drinking water or the environment. A statement said the safety of the Mount Morgan Mine site and its ongoing safety and monitoring were a priority.

“The open-cut pit has never overflowed in its history despite extensive periods of flooding in the region. New measures the department is implementing are expected to reduce the probability of pit wall overflow to less than 1%.

A $3.4 million lime dosing water treatment plant treats water from the open-cut pit to lower its water level and to improve the quality of water released into the Dee River. The water level in the pit is continuously under control and being lowered.”

An $1.8m upgrade was also under way, the statement said.

It will kill the Fitzroy system

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