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A hidden problem: Latrobe Valley community’s plan for environment regulator, power station operators to clean up toxic coal ash waste

December 07, 2021

Environment and community advocates in the Latrobe Valley have compiled a detailed plan for Victoria’s regulator and power station operators to clean up dangerous and toxic coal ash dams.   

Time is running out for Energy Australia, operator of Yallourn Power Station, and AGL, which runs Loy Yang A, to provide a clear and safe rehabilitation plan for coal ash dams, to the Victorian Environment Protection Authority.   

A plan put forward to rehabilitate the improperly lined coal ash dam left behind by ENGIE’s now closed Hazelwood Power Station, has been kept a secret from the Latrobe Valley community, who will face the consequences for decades to come if operators do not take a safe, best-practice approach to tackle this toxic issue.  

Environmental Justice Australia has compiled a comprehensive plan on behalf of Friends of Latrobe Water, warning that the community and environment must come first and operators cannot merely cap ash dams and then walk away leaving residents to face the damage left in their wake.  

Power station operators must put their money where their mouth is and implement best-practice models to rehabilitate coal ash dams that have been left unlined, or so poorly lined that they have torn, which allows toxic waste to leach into groundwater and rivers, putting the community’s health and the environment at risk.  

AGL and Energy Australia are required to submit rehabilitation plans by December, however the regulations as they stand are not strong enough to protect the community and environment.  

Coal ash produced from coal-fired power stations is the fifth largest stream of industrial waste in Australia.  

It is a hidden problem which can’t be seen from the road in the way an imposing mine can be. The dams are built near power stations, next to waterways on top of or intersecting groundwater, and are filled with toxic ash mixed with water. Due to inadequate lining, the toxins seep into groundwater, flows through aquifers and potentially into rivers and creeks.   

FLoW spokeswoman Hayley Sestokas said:  

“The Latrobe Valley community already live with the damage caused by coal ash dams, and it is frightening that the true extent may not be known for decades,” she said.  

“The community has been kept in the dark on an issue which affects our health and our lives.” 

FLoW spokeswoman Tracey Anton said:  

“The community must be a central part of the rehabilitation plan and we must be provided clear information about what we are living next door to,” she said.  

“AGL and Energy Australia cannot linger and must bring the community along to determine how coal ash dams can be remediated safely to prevent catastrophic damage to our environment and our community.”  

EJA Lawyer Chloe Badcock said:  

“Existing regulations are not fit for purpose and do not go far enough to protect the community from toxic coal ash dams. As the laws stand, they are set up to fail.  

“The dams were built before EPA guidelines existed and are currently operating under rules for landfill sites, which fails to address management of coal ash dam rehabilitation.”  

Media contact: Kathryn Lewis, 0411 670 886, [email protected]   

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