Woodsreef Asbestos Mine

About this Item
SpeakersPresident; Cohen The Hon Ian; Macdonald The Hon Ian
BusinessQuestions Without Notice, QWN

Page: 11603

Mr IAN COHEN: My question is directed to the Minister for Mineral Resources. Is he aware of concerns of the Tamworth and Barraba communities regarding potential exposure to asbestos dust from the abandoned Woodsreef mine? Does he agree with a representative of the Department of Primary Industries who stated on ABC television's 7.30 Report that "the tailings are not posing any health hazard at this point"? Will he advise the House on the two reports produced by his department and whether the department will take further steps to quarantine the abandoned site from public access?

The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I thank the member for his question. The Government is aware of the issues concerning the Woodsreef site. To provide a whole-of-government approach those issues, on 14 August 2008 the Premier announced the establishment of a Woodsreef Mine Taskforce. Representatives from New South Wales Health, the Department of Environment and Climate Change and the Department of Primary Industries are meeting to consider the issues and ongoing management of Woodsreef.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I call the Hon. Charlie Lynn to order.

The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: Repairs to breaches in the boundary fence were completed in late August under the Derelict Mines Program. The work was inspected by officers from the Department of Primary Industries on 25 August 2008. I am advised that as of late August, no breaches were detected in the boundary fence. Since 1997 the New South Wales Government has spent in excess of $1.1 million on rehabilitation and safety works at the site. The Government currently is exploring funding options for rehabilitation works at the site.

The derelict Woodsreef mine is located 15 kilometres north east of Barraba in the Northern Tablelands electorate. The former mine extends over an area of approximately 270 hectares. Open cut mining first occurred at Woodsreef between 1918 and 1923. The Chrysotile Corporation of Australia carried out large-scale mining between 1973 and 1983, and approximately 500,000 tonnes of chrysotile was produced. The mine closed in 1983, due to high production costs, and is now considered a derelict mine.

The site comprises a 75 million tonne waste rock dump, a 25 million tonne tailings dump, and a number of open pits, some of which contain considerable quantities of water. There are also a number of derelict buildings that are all substantially not rehabilitated. Uncontained chrysotile fibres are found throughout the site. An unsealed local road, Crow Mountain Road, bisects the mine and traverses the site immediately adjacent to the uncapped tailings dump. In 1997 a consultancy firm, Dames and Moore, was contracted to undertake a risk assessment of the Woodsreef mine site. A number of recommendations were made in that report. Works have been undertaken to address many of the high-risk issues. However, because of funding constraints some will not progress.

The Dames and Moore report of 1997 classified risks at Woodsreef into high, medium and low categories. The risks associated with inhalation were not considered to be significant, given the low level of exposure. The low-risk factors at Woodsreef were to residents in Barraba due to airborne chrysotile; risks to water supply sources; risks due to leaching of heavy metals; and other human and environmental risks associated with the site. These risks were not considered significant and were within generally accepted levels for public exposure. The medium-risk factors at Woodsreef were to local residents living near the tailings dump or downstream watercourses, and also to regular users of Crow Mountain Road close to the tailings dump, because of airborne fibres. This was given a medium rating as there are few permanent residents and low usage of Crow Mountain Road. The high-risk factors at Woodsreef involved the risk of injury to intruders as a result of accidents and rock falls.

Survey and costing estimations in the late 1980s put the rehabilitation cost at about $80 million. It is expected that the current cost of full rehabilitation would significantly exceed $100 million. The Department of Primary Industries, the Department of Environment and Climate Change and NSW Health have met to consider the issues at the Woodsreef mine and to examine potential options for management. It is the view of these agencies that the recommendations in the Dames and Moore study remain valid. The key outstanding actions include the closure of 2.4 kilometres of Crow Mountain Road in the vicinity of the Woodsreef mine, removal of the derelict mill and silos, and the installation of a comprehensive air monitoring program. These works were costed in the Dames and Moore report and a Parsons Brinckerhoff consultancy report in 2006. Addressing the outstanding recommendations would cost in the order of $3.3 million. [Time expired.]