Billionaire mine-owner Clive Palmer has applied for one of his Queensland companies, the Yabulu nickel refinery, to be allowed to dump millions of litres of toxic water into the Great Barrier Reef.
The tailing dams at the refinery are at dangerously high levels after record rainfall over recent years. There is concern that another big wet season would cause the ponds to overflow, spreading the toxic waste into the Townsville area. The state and federal environment ministers have confirmed that it posed a serious environmental threat and agreed the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority should reject Palmer’s application.
Palmer argued that dumping the water into the ocean is the only solution and denied that the water, which is full of metals and nitrogen, would be harmful to the environment; in fact he claims that dumping it will “protect lives”.
The June 27 Courier-Mail reported that Palmer said there is an 8% risk the ponds will collapse, and the deadly chemicals it contains could get into the waterways of Townsville. "If we close it down and leave the dams there, they're going to burst and children are going to die.”
It begs the question that if it is toxic enough to kill people, wouldn’t that also make it toxic enough to kill endangered fish and cause significant damage to the reef environment?
The Great Barrier Reef is a marine park, designed to protect valuable ecosystems and endangered marine species, and is recognised as one of Australia's top tourist attractions. Palmer claims that as this is an emergency situation, he should be allowed to override normal environmental protection laws.
However, a Queensland scientist who has worked on the tailing dams at the Yabulu refinery, Graeme Millar, conceded that Palmer could solve the problem by investing in new technology or building the dam walls higher.
The Brisbane Times reported on June 29 that: “Professor Millar said Queensland Nickel was presented with a trial technology several years ago that could remove ammonia — the toxic ingredient in the contaminated water — and turn it into fertiliser. However, the company opted not to pursue it.”
Instead of managing its toxic waste, Palmer's company has allowed a dangerous situation to develop, which by its own admission could put people's health and lives in danger. Now it is using the resulting crisis to bully the government into letting it pursue the cheaper option of dumping its waste into the sea.