EPA investigators are currently looking into effects of a botched blast at Mount Arthur Mine last Wednesday, which caused toxic fumes to spread several kilometres from the site.
The blast was triggered at 2pm on Wednesday, turning skies near Muswellbrook bright orange as a result of poisonous nitrogen dioxide fumes being released into the atmosphere.
EPA Director – North Branch Gary Davey said the fumes impacted on the nearby Muswellbrook Industrial Estate.
“We have begun an immediate investigation into the incident and have asked Mt Arthur to provide an incident report; It is important to have all the available evidence so the EPA can understand the circumstances leading to the blast fume leaving the mine site,” Mr Davey said.
According to local mine workers the ammonium nitrate and fuel oil explosives were left in the ground for 21 days, a week longer than recommended due to risk of water contamination.
Mine site workers reported that blast materials, boosters and detonators were left to “sleep” in the ground longer than the recommended 14 days due to inclement weather conditions.
BHP Billiton NSW energy coal asset president Peter Sharpe confirmed that the incident on Wednesday was caused by delays with activating the explosives.
Mr Sharpe said that BHP is monitoring the community for any health impacts.
“We have heard some information that there may have been some people in the industrial area who have complained about some health impacts…even though I can’t confirm that,” he said.
“Mt Arthur Coal takes its environmental and community obligations very seriously and I would like to apologise to the community for any impacts they may experience from today’s blast,” Mr Sharpe said.
Australian Mining was unable to contact any workers in the industrial estate who had witnessed or experienced irritation from toxic fumes on Wednesday afternoon, however a reporter for the Newcastle Herald said there were five medical complaints registered by the EPA.
The incident has raised concerns over the culture of risk assessment on the Mt Arthur site, as BHP Billiton was already fined $1500 last year for breaching Mt Arthur Mine’s environment protection licence by allowing explosives to rest in the ground too long, causing excessive blast fumes.
Image: Muswellbrook Chronicle