Pollution Threat of Old Pits Set to Be Assessed; Abandoned Mines Cause a Problem

The Journal (Newcastle, England), June 9, 2009 | Go to article overview

Pollution Threat of Old Pits Set to Be Assessed; Abandoned Mines Cause a Problem


Byline: Tony Henderson

THE threat posed by pollution from long-abandoned metal mines will be highlighted at a Newcastle conference tomorrow.

The event at Newcastle University will explore the legacy of hundreds of years of exhaustive coal and metal mining which ranges from pollution and gas to subsidence, unpredictable ground movements and shaft collapses.

The North East, once honeycombed by collieries, is riddled with old mineworkings and shafts.

Newcastle University experts and the Environment Agency have been working on a assessing the level of pollution of rivers and streams from old lead and other metal mines in areas like the North Pennines.

The problem is that the mines date from many years ago and were never nationalised, so nobody is currently responsible for the pollution. Zinc, cadmium and lead is leaking into waterways and affects fish and other aquatic life.

"We are now recognising that there is a quite substantial pollution problem," said Hugh Potter, one of the conference speakers and a principal scientist for the Environment Agency based at Newcastle University.

He said that as progress was being made in dealing with pollution like sewage and industrial discharges, the risk from metal mines was coming increasingly to the fore.

The Newcastle University survey had identified around 400 waterways in the UK affected by metal mine pollution.

Around 40 stretches of waterways in the North East are on the list, mainly in the upper South Tyne and its tributaries, such as the River Nent, and the West Allen.

Another of the conference speakers, Newcastle University Professor of Energy and Environment Paul Younger, said that old mineworkings were everywhere in the North East.

"When you look at the mineworking plans it is absolutely breathtaking," he said. …

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