Mandalay Resources will supply residents within 1.5km of its Costerield mine with drinking water after complaints about heavy metal contamination.
The Victorian Department of Health is investigating a complaint about the health risk posed by dust generated by the plant’s machinery.
The mine’s sustainability manager Andrew Mattiske said staff began calling affected residents yesterday to offer the free water.
Mr Mattiske said Mandalay would continue to offer water until the Department of Health completed its investigation.
Costerfield farmer Neil Harris has again voiced his concerns about possible health risks from the dust.
Mr Harris’s wife was tested for antimony in mid-April and her results were much higher than expected.
‘‘My wife doesn’t work on the farm and her results are 23 times over what they’re supposed to be,’’ Mr Harris said.
He anticipated his own result would be much higher.
In early April Mr Harris told The McIvor Times he was worried about the dust on several counts, including diminished air quality, the potential for pollution of domestic rainwater tanks and the possibility of stock becoming contaminated and consequently unfit for consumption, resulting in severe loss of income for farmers.
After his wife’s recent antimony test result, Mr Harris ordered independent water and soil testing which showed elevated levels of antimony in a number of rainwater tanks and other water bodies in the Costerfield area, as well as in the soil.
The accepted safe maximum level for antimony is 3ug/L (micrograms a litre), however a dam on Mr Harris’s property —near the mine’s processing plant —had more than 100 times this level.
Tin Pot Creek showed 6300ug/L and a number of private rainwater tanks in Costerfield were also above safe levels, including one at 48ug/L and another at 25ug/L.
Mr Harris said these test results were provided to the Chief Health Officer last week.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said they were aware of community concerns.
‘‘The Department of Health is assisting the Department of State Development, Business and Innovation with its investigation of dust management at a gold and antimony mine in Costerfield,’’ he said.
A DSDBI spokesman said they were aware there had been complaints about dust from the Costerfield mine site.
‘‘The Department has met with the complainants and has issued notices to the mine operator, requiring them to strengthen dust suppression measures at the site,’’ he said.
‘‘A direction was issued to the mine operator to install additional water sprays to minimise the generation of dust and to install a dust extraction system.
‘‘Both of these measures are now in place and are working.
‘‘DSDBI is continuing to follow up on concerns raised by some community members and is working in conjunction with other agencies including the Department of Health and the Environment Protection Authority to coordinate the Government response to these concerns.’’
On Monday Mr Harris said dust from the processing plant was still visible and he was not confident the suppression measures were adequate.
Mandalay Resources Costerfield general manager Andre Booyzen said it was aware of concerns raised by a neighbouring farmer about the dust and were working with the Department of Health and DSDBI to investigate.
‘‘Dust emissions from the mine are controlled to meet strict requirements set by the government,’’ he said.
‘‘Mandalay Resources has not seen the results of testing which were provided to The McIvor Times.’’
He said it was important all the information available was carefully considered and Mandalay would co-operate with the regulatory authorities in assessing whatever data was available.
‘‘Mandalay Resources takes its environmental obligations very seriously,’’ he said.
‘‘The mine is aware of the potential to generate dust during hot and dry conditions and uses water sprays, dust extraction systems and road watering programs to prevent dust leaving the mine site.’’
Facts about antimony
Short-term (acute) exposure to antimony by inhalation in humans results in effects on the skin and eyes.
Oral exposure to antimony in humans has resulted in gastrointestinal effects.
Long-term exposure to antimony in humans via inhalation results in respiratory effects, such as inflammation of the lungs, chronic bronchitis, and chronic emphysema.
Human studies are inconclusive regarding antimony exposure and cancer, while animal studies have reported lung tumors in rats exposed to antimony trioxide via inhalation.
■ Antimony is alloyed with other metals such as lead to increase its hardness and strength. Its primary use is in antimonial lead, which is used in grid metal for lead acid storage batteries.
■ Other uses of antimony alloys are for solder, sheet and pipe, bearing metals, castings, and type metal.
■ Antimony oxides (primarily antimony trioxide) are used as fire retardants for plastics, textiles, rubber, adhesives, pigments, and paper.
Australian agencies currently reference overseas benchmarks relating to antimony exposure.