Reports | 7th Dec, 2021

When the ash settles: cleaning up Latrobe Valley’s toxic coal ash

For years, the Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has allowed big polluters like AGL and Energy Australia to operate their coal power stations without without strong regulations to prevent water contamination and serious adverse health impacts for the surrounding community.

It’s time to change that. Together with Friends of Latrobe Water (FLOW) and Environmental Justice Australia (EJA), we’re asking the EPA to develop guidelines to make sure coal mine operators do everything they can to limit harmful pollution from coal ash dams. You can help make sure we’re heard, by emailing the head of the EPA >>

Coal ash is the waste produced after coal is burned. It contains concentrated heavy metals and fine particle pollution, and is mixed with water to create a slurry, which is then kept in dams. But because of poor regulation, these dams have been leaching into groundwater. We know from case studies in the USA that the full extent of contamination only appears decades after the dams start operating. This is not a temporary problem.

Current EPA guidelines categorises coal ash dams as landfill — but the guidelines for managing landfill are totally inappropriate for managing coal ash slurry.

To limit the harm to local communities coal companies must ensure coal ash dams are properly engineered, managed, monitored and rehabilitated. Otherwise dangerous toxins will make their way into our water, harming people’s health and hurting the animals, insects and fish that rely on our waterways.

Management plans for ash dams are not publicly available, so communities have no opportunity to scrutinise what the coal power station operators are doing, or not doing, to stop the pollution of our waterways.

To help change this, FLOW and EJA have released a report When the ash settles: cleaning up Latrobe Valley’s toxic coal ash. You can read or download the report below. They’ve also created a handy community guide that summarises the key information without the technical jargon.

Download the community guide Download the full report