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Friday, April 23, 2021

Hunter meeting calls for state-wide increase in coal-ash reuse

Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper will host a public meeting this weekend to address issues surrounding coal-ash waste pollution and reuse.

Coordinated by the Hunter Community Environment Centre (HCEC) – to take place between 1pm and 4pm on Saturday 27 February at the Point Wolstoncroft Sport and Recreation Centre, Gwandalan – guest speakers include Dr Ian Wright (Western Sydney University), Paul Winn (HCEC), Nick Willis (Wilco Group), Mark Ramsey (Vecor), economist Dr Ingrid Schraner, local Bruce Derkenne (Coal-ash Community Alliance) and soil scientist and reuse advocate Dr Jane Aiken.

It is understood an estimated 216 million tonnes of coal-ash waste lies in unlined dumps across NSW, with 101 million tonnes in Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast, 84 million tonnes in the Hunter Valley and 28 million tonnes in Lithgow.

Organisers are expecting more than 100 residents to attend the function.

“The meeting is a demonstration of the community concern about the lack of action from the state government on coal-ash waste contamination to date,” HCEC spokesperson Jo Lynch said.

“In October last year, detailed studies of coal-ash waste sites commissioned by NSW Treasury in 2014 became public, confirming extensive contamination of soil and groundwater with heavy metals at all ash waste sites in the state.”

Dr Ian Wright, a water quality expert from the Western Sydney University, said coal-ash leachate was an issue that’s growing all the time.

“It poses an immediate and long-term risk to our waterways and aquatic ecosystems due to bio-accumulation risks,” he explained.

“We must act now to prevent coal-ash contaminants from entering our environment for decades to come.”

The HCEC’s recent investigation into coal-ash leachate (Out of the Ashes II) estimates almost 1000 tonnes of harmful heavy metals may leach into NSW waterways if the rate of coal-ash recycling does not increase.

Economist Dr Ingrid Schraner will also speak about a recent assessment of the economic benefits that could come from a state-wide increase in coal-ash reuse.

“The reuse of both fresh and impounded ash for use in structural-grade lightweight aggerates, particularly for precast concrete products is an economically and environmentally compelling solution that could support more than 3000 jobs for NSW and contribute billions to the economy,” she said.

Vecor CEO Mr Ramsey said coal-ash was an underappreciated resource.

“If fully utilised, it will enable the creation of new industries and many new jobs,” he added.

“The opportunity to attract investment should be seen as a way for the people of the region, the power station owners, the government and those with environmental concerns, to work together for the benefit of all stakeholders.”

The NSW Upper House committee, appointed to the costs for remediation of sites containing coal-ash repositories inquiry, conducted a hearing in Lake Macquarie in September to hear from local residents and groups, including the Coal-ash Community Alliance about the concerns surrounding coal-ash impacts.

And, this weekend’s meeting comes one month before the findings of the inquiry are made public.

“Increasing coal-ash reuse will be a win for waterways and for workers at NSW coal-fired power stations, which may close sooner than expected,” Ms Lynch said.

“The NSW Government and power station operators could transform the burden of coal-ash into something that benefits the environment, communities and workers for decades to come.”

View a livestream of the public meeting at https://www.hcec.org.au/events/coal-ash-public-meeting

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