Ten years after the worst industrial air pollution disaster in Victoria’s history, Latrobe Valley locals and environmental lawyers say toxic coal mines still pose a risk to the Gippsland community.
On the anniversary of the Hazelwood mine fire today, Latrobe Valley locals are calling on the Victorian government to finally release reports on alternative mine rehabilitation options.
Engie plans to turn the former mine site into a full toxic pit lake, but no analysis has been released on alternatives, which include using recycled or desalinated water, or a partial pit-lake.
The Hazelwood mine fire began on 9 February 2014, blanketing the Latrobe Valley in toxic smoke and falling ash. It was declared safe 45 days later on 25 March 2014.
An inquiry found authorities were too slow in providing health advice to the community, the failure to appropriately manage and progressively rehabilitate the mine contributed to the fire’s severity, and the health of Morwell residents should be monitored for at least two decades.
Hazelwood mine is bigger than Melbourne CBD and cleaning it up will be the largest rehabilitation project Victoria has ever seen.
In total, more than 2,350 gigalitres (GL) of water will be needed to flood the three mines.
Locals are worried that plans to use fresh and groundwater supplies to rehabilitate the Latrobe Valley’s three mines risk the future of the Latrobe River system in a drying climate and will cause costly ground subsidence.
Engie’s plan to flood the mine will take almost two decades and more water than all of Sydney Harbour – 637 GL – plus another five to 10 GL of water every year just to offset the evaporation.
This is in addition to the 630GL of water that EnergyAustralia needs to flood Yallourn (which is closing in 2028). AGL will also need 1087 GL of water to rehabilitate Loy Yang, which is due to close in 2035.
Hundreds of community members are expected to attend the Life After Coal event on Saturday 17 February 2024 at Kernot Hall.
Friends of Latrobe Valley Water spokesperson Tracey Anton said:
“The mine fire was the culmination of decades of poor planning, privatisation and bad decisions by the government.
Latrobe Valley community groups are keeping the pressure on Engie to make sure we never face another disaster like that again.
A coal fire could happen again at any time and the regulator needs to make sure that Engie is managing the fire risk on hot and windy days.
There is not enough fresh water in the river system to have three full pit lakes without trading off the health of the Gippsland Lakes.”
Voices of the Valley President, Wendy Farmer said:
“The mine fire was one of the worst industrial and public health incidents in Victoria’s history.
The fire was foreseeable and the disaster was preventable.
We still want answers about how these mines can be made safe. We want more investment in renewable energy and a better future for our children and grandchildren.
Properly rehabilitating these mines is a significant opportunity for the region – creating good local jobs, restoring the land, improving biodiversity, and addressing the legacy of coal mining.”
Environmental Justice Australia Senior Lawyer Ally McAlpine said:
“The mine fire was a watershed moment for environmental justice in Australia. We saw first-hand what happens when a multinational mining company is allowed to cut corners at the expense of local communities.
Coal mining has left the Latrobe Valley with a toxic legacy, and the government needs to come clean on how it thinks all three mines can be rehabilitated without devastating rivers and lakes.
The impacts of the toxic smoke and coal ash are ongoing – they will continue to be felt long into the future, especially for those with directly impacted family members.”
Environment Victoria Community Organiser Hayley Sestokas said:
“Ten years on from the Hazelwood fires – why are we still not seeing transparent processes around the rehabilitation of the Hazelwood mine site? The community is now concerned that what we are seeing amounts to water filling by stealth, as Engie continues to pour huge amounts of water into the mine site.
“The immediate and ongoing impacts of this disaster demonstrate why it’s so important that we get rehabilitation of mine sites right and improve our processes to ensure such a disaster never happens again.”
James Norman, Media and Content Manager