Mining giant Glencore and the NT Health Department did not act on a recommendation from the Chief Health Officer to warn people living near the McArthur River Mine to not eat fish from three locations, Northern Territory Government documents show.
For more than a year Borroloola’s Indigenous clans have worried reactive waste rock on McArthur River Mine and leaking tailings dams could be health risks and have been asking the Giles Government to tell them whether it is safe to eat fish from nearby waterways.
The mine in the remote Roper River region south of Arnhem Land on the Gulf of Carpentaria is one of the world’s largest producers of lead, zinc and silver.
Mines department briefing documents released under freedom of information laws to the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) showed the NT’s Chief Health Officer recommended signs be erected warning people not to eat fish from Surprise Creek or Bing Bong Port, because of heavy metals in fish, oysters and mussels.
The briefing was prepared by the then mines department chief executive Scott Perkins for then mines minister Willem Westra Van Holthe and Chief Minister Adam Giles, in advance of a meeting in February with chief operating officer for Glencore’s zinc assets, Greg Ashe, and the general manager of the McArthur River Mine, Sam Strohmayr.
The briefing said:
The Chief Health Officer and the Department of Health have an overall responsibility to safeguard the health of the public and requested that the Department of Mines issue an instruction to McArthur River Mining to erect signage along Barney Creek, Surprise Creek and within the immediate region of the Bing Bong Port advising people not to eat fish or other species from these waters because it may pose a risk to public health.
The briefing note said the miner had not put up the signs.
When the ABC inquired in May this year what warnings the health department had issued, it said it had warned adults to limit fish intake to three times a week, and children to twice a week.
The Environmental Defender’s Office said it was “extraordinary” the mine was still operational.