By Bryce Eishold
Concerns surrounding toxic coal ash ponds have been raised in a supplementary submission by Environmental Justice Australia as part of the EPA’s review into the region’s brown coal-fired power stations’ licences.
The not-for-profit legal centre which specialises in environmental law hopes the submission will encourage the EPA to tighten licence conditions for power station operators and how they store toxic waste.
Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Bronya Lipski said the six-page submission highlighted concerns about inadequate monitoring, the construction of ash ponds and the risk of groundwater contamination in the Latrobe Valley.
Ash ponds are used to contain post-combustion waste after coal has been burnt with waste usually pumped into landfill sites where it remains indefinitely.
“We actually provided some material to a coal ash expert in the United States. We sent them some publicly available information from the EPA’s website including the environmental audit for landfill,” Ms Lipski said.
“What we’ve discovered is that there is significant contamination issues with ash ponds in the Latrobe Valley, particularly around groundwater.
Licences for AGL’s Loy Yang A, AlintaEnergy’s Loy Yang B and the EnergyAustralia-owned Yallourn Power Station are being reviewed by the EPA.
Licensing controls the operation of the sites to prevent adverse effects on the environment
The supplementary submission raises concerns about inadequate monitoring and construction to determine the risk of groundwater contamination and a large groundwater contamination plume at a power station in the Latrobe Valley.
Ms Lipski said she had particular concerns with the lack of community consultation in the last EPA review.
“The EPA conducted a review into landfill licence conditions in 2015 which includes the ash ponds and there was no other consultation with anyone other than the licensee,” Ms Lipski said.
“What we’re hoping is that the review will be broadened to consider the licensing conditions around ash pond management and clean up of contamination.”
The organisation also detailed concerns about licence conditions in Victoria compared to power stations in the United States, describing Victoria’s approach as “vastly inadequate” in comparison when protecting surface and groundwater.
In a statement, an Environment Protection Authority spokesman said current licences on power stations operators in the Latrobe Valley had “stringent requirements” regarding to ash ponds and toxic waste storage.
“Victorian sites have ash ponds of a much smaller scale than some of those in other states,” the spokesman said.
“Stockpiled ash at active or inactive sites must be managed to limit dust generation. An example of how industry can do this is by keeping the ash wet until it is permanently covered as part of a site’s closure and rehabilitation.
“EPA will consider concerns about power station ash ponds as part of its current review of power station licences.
A spokeswoman for AGL said it “is in compliance with regulations and our current licensing conditions as they relate to groundwater in the vicinity of the ash pond”.
A spokesman for EnergyAustralia said in a statement “We comply with all of our environmental licences, which extends to ash landfills and basins. The most recent audit was done mid-2017 for Yallourn’s landfill, and for Latrobe River finding no impact to beneficial, or public, uses.”
ENGIE “politely” declined requests to comment made by The Express.
Published by the Latrobe Valley Express on 31 May 2018