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Victorian farmers tell independent facilitator radioactive mining waste could damage land and human health

August 28, 2015
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Farmer expertise will be taken into account when authorities decide whether a mining company should be allowed to continue dumping radioactive waste at a site in western Victoria.

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Iluka Resources, a mineral sands mining company, has applied to dispose of more than two million tonnes of waste by-product, at a site in Douglas over the next 15 to 20 years.

Dozens of farmers shared concerns about potential impacts on agricultural land and human health, at a four-hour conference this week, telling an independent facilitator they had evidence the proposed activity was not safe.

The mining company rejected landholders’ claims, stressing it had already been using the Douglas site for waste disposal since 2006, in accordance with “strict environmental management requirements”.

New approvals are required because, as of mid 2016, Iluka Resources will no longer be mining in Victoria.

However material from interstate will still be processed at a plant in Hamilton, which employs about 90 people, and the company said dumping waste in western Victoria was the most efficient option.

“This is a change in regulatory regime, not operating practice,” a statement on the company website reads.

“Iluka is proposing a continuation of its current and regulatory accepted activities.”

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and Horsham Rural City Council, must approve or reject the proposal, based on recommendations from independent experts in hydrogeology and radiation.

The groups also commissioned independent facilitator Jen Lilburn to chair this week’s conference and compile a report about issues raised.

“I saw some very concerned people,” Ms Lilburn said.

“When you’re talking about radiation, is there anything that waves a bigger red flag these days?

“Yes it’s by all accounts low level and so on, but that word radiation just does make people’s ears prick up and want to know more.”

Kanagulk Landcare Group is leading the resistance, with members funding their own experts and dedicating months of research to the cause.

Group leaders declined to speak with the media, saying they were sick of being made into a “human interest story” and felt like their evidence was not being taken seriously.

Ms Lilburn assured them it would be.

“I do think that the EPA should seek independent experts but they shouldn’t negate the community’s research, the community-held knowledge of history of this area and most of all the community’s concerns,” she said.

“The organisations have a big role to play in helping alleviate those concerns and helping the community understand the realities.”

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EPA major projects manager, Tony Robinson, said economic benefits to the region would not be given any consideration.

“We’ve got to assess whether it’s going to cause pollution or not, that’s EPA’s assessment,” he said.

“We’re looking to make sure safety and the environment are protected, it’s not about trading off things at their expense.”

Asked whether the safety of waste disposal had been adequately assessed years ago, when Iluka Resources started dumping at the Douglas site, Mr Robinson said EPA was not involved.

“With this new phase, it’s going through a revived approval process,” he said.

“We’re getting advice from the health department, the local council and from other regulators to make sure it’s safe.”

A final decision will be announced before the end of the year.

Published by ABC Rural