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Article

Australia: Glencore's McArthur River Mine will need 1,000 years of monitoring post production

"This Tiny Aboriginal Town Is Fighting A "Huge Toxic Time Bomb", 10 August 2019

...It’s impossible to imagine what the world will look like in the year 3037, but that’s when mining multinational Glencore says it will finally be safe to stop monitoring the site of its McArthur River Mine, 1,000 years after digging wraps up.

The open-cut mine — one of the largest zinc resources in the world, which also contains lead and silver — lies in the Gulf region, the traditional home of the Yanyuwa, Gudanji, Mara and Garawa peoples. The remote pocket of northern Australia is far from the Northern Territory’s urban centres, but an hour’s drive from the mine is the small, majority-Aboriginal town of Borroloola, which straddles the McArthur River.

As the mine approaches the end of a five-year process to approve its plan to stave off an environmental disaster of its own creation, many of Borroloola’s residents are afraid...However they feel about it, their lives and futures are now bound up with Glencore — and whether it can fight off the environmental devastation that its mine threatens to wreak on the river...

Glencore admitted in late 2013 that it had been using a flawed system to classify its waste rock and tailings, the latter of which is the waste remaining once minerals are extracted from rock. (Glencore has owned the mine since 2012, when it merged with Xstrata.) The company had said in 2012 that less than a quarter of the waste rock was potentially acid-forming, but in reality that number was higher, and much of the rest of the rock was still highly reactive. All up, the risky rock made up nearly 90% of the material...

Because the mine was unaware of how much risky rock it had piled on the waste dump, it hadn’t done the required work to protect the local water system. The result is a serious threat to groundwater and the McArthur River...

Despite decades of protest, led by elders including Green and McDinny, the NT government has always been determined for the mine at McArthur River to go ahead. Back when digging began in 1995, it was supposed to be an underground mine with a 15-year lifespan that would see it close in 2010. But then in 2005 Xstrata made a dramatic proposal — the mine would become open-cut and remain in use until 2027. And it would divert a 5km stretch of the McArthur River, destroying the Rainbow Serpent Dreaming in the process...

The notices posted in Garawa One and Garawa Two camps on April 19, 2018 warned the 100 or so residents of the camps not to drink water from their taps, or use it to clean teeth or cook...

Two sample sites had turned up elevated levels of lead during routine government testing, and one also had elevated levels of manganese, the NT health department said at the time...The notices advised that babies, young children and pregnant women were “most likely” to be affected, but said it was a “short-term problem”...

The mine says it has consulted with the site's traditional owners and signed an agreement with them, showing their consent. But others aren’t so sure...

“We also believe the best thing we can do for the local community is to run a safe, responsible and sustainable operation...” Glencore’s spokesperson said...