Read the full report > Out of the Ashes: Water pollution and Lake Macquarie's ageing coal-fired power stations

Read a briefing document and backgorund here


March 10th saw the silence on coal-ash break, with the ABC exclusive report on heavy metal contamination in Lake Macquarie and the stoppages to coal-ash reuse, despite the demand coming from the construction industry to utilize it as a sustainable and cheap resource.

Further coverage of Australia's mounting toxic waste issue in print and radio:

Coal ash has become one of Australia's biggest waste problems — and a solution is being ignored, ABC Newcastle

Crabs in Lake Macquarie contaminated with 'unhealthy' levels of cadmiumABC Newcastle

Dangerous levels of cadmium in Lake Macquarie marine lifeABC AM

An internal government agency report raises serious concerns about the health of Lake Macquarie​Newcastle Herald

Piper backs independant review of damning Lake Macquarie report - Newcastle Herald


Monday March 11

Pollution solutions rising from the ashes

The Hunter Community Environment Centre today released a damning report of ongoing heavy metal pollution in Lake Macquarie that it says is caused by the accumulation of coal ash generated by the Eraring and Vales Point power stations.


The report, Out of the Ashes: Water pollution and Lake Macquarie’s aging coal-fired power stations exposes the extent of heavy metal contamination in the lake and calls for regulatory reform to fix the mounting toxic waste problem facing NSW, and Australia.

The environment centre conducted water sampling at key locations in the lake, commissioned laboratory analyses, researched coal ash management and composition, reviewed environmental licences and information and documents acquired under freedom of information law from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and Office Environment and Heritage (OEH).


Environment centre Coordinator, Jo Lynch said, “Our water and sediment sampling found levels of arsenic, lead, selenium, copper, nickel and zinc above the recommended concentrations for healthy marine ecosystems. The water samples also contained levels of aluminium, iron, and manganese above those recommended for marine waters used for recreational purposes. The discharge of these heavy metals into Lake Macquarie really can’t be reduced without removing the coal-ash from the shores of the lake.”


Report author Paul Winn said, “Most of the impacts will be on the Lake’s aquatic life, which is very sensitive to many heavy metals as they accumulate to higher concentrations in fish, invertebrates and birds, than those in the water and can have severe impacts on their health and reproductive success.  But people who eat fish and invertebrates from the Lake are also at risk.”


The report analyses a risk assessment by Office of Environment and Heritage, accessed through freedom of information law, which warns that people should not eat any mud crab due to high cadmium concentrations, and people, particularly children should limit their consumption of most seafood from the Lake due to high selenium concentrations.

The environment centre cite reuse in cement as one the most environmentally safe option for coal ash, with other uses such as mine site rehabilitation or as amendments to agricultural soil, fertilizers and potting mixes posing significant risks of contaminating groundwater or entering the food-chain.


Lynch said, “Coal ash is a hazardous waste, and its regulation needs urgent reform. This reform

needs to consider the whole life cycle of coal burning, ash production, handling, storage, transport, and reuse. As it stands, this hazardous material is allowed to be shipped around the country with no government agency knowing where it is being sent or what it’s being used for.”


Ash from coal fired power stations makes up 20 percent of Australia’s total waste stream and only about 19 percent of what is generated is beneficially reused.


Paul Winn said, “Coal ash is purposely excluded from a number of hazardous waste and pollution laws to encourage its reuse in the construction industry, but these measures are failing to incentivize its reuse or protected us from the heavy metal pollution coal ash can create. Regulatory amendments are required that put the financial burden for safe disposal of coal ash back onto the power station operators and incentives are required that encourage environmentally responsible coal ash reuse to remove a key source of heavy metal contamination from the shores of Lake Macquarie, reduce a key source of greenhouse gas pollution, and encourage new on-site enterprises that will provide new jobs for displaced workers when these aging facilities are finally decommissioned.”


Further comment

Jo Lynch, Hunter Community Environment Centre Coordinator, 0417 750 850

Paul Winn, Out of the Ashes author and coal ash project coordinator, 0498 475 431