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Wilderness Society Media Release

June 6 2019

Heavy metal smears leave EPA and Environment Minister with questions to answer

A second academic paper has now found not just that Tasmania’s western lakes are
polluted with heavy metals toxic to human health to a “disturbing” level but that the source of
pollution could be even wider than just mining, to include “sources from hydro-electric
schemes, agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, transport, fire management practices and
tourism”.

“But instead of taking any meaningful action since the issue was first raised in January, the
environment minister, Elise Archer, and the EPA have attacked the findings. Trying to shoot
the messenger because they’re carrying an inconvenient message is not good enough,” said
Tom Allen spokesperson for the Wilderness Society Tasmania. “The EPA is simply failing to
show agency to protect Tasmanians and our environment, making it an EPA in name only
and the environment minister is again missing in action.”

Australian National University (ANU) researcher Larissa Schneider was on holiday in


Tasmania when she decided, on the off-chance, to test the sediment of the state’s western
lakes. To her surprise, it revealed shockingly high levels of heavy metals pollution (lead,
copper, aluminium, copper, zinc, arsenic, selenium and cadmium) which she subsequently
published a peer-reviewed paper​ on in January 2019.

The paper invited further research, made clear there was a risk to human health (“metal
contamination might be posing health risks to aquatic organisms and humans feeding on
them”) and noted that her paper “was undertaken to inform the scientific community and the
public about the legacy of metal contamination within the TWWHA [Tasmanian Wilderness
World Heritage Area] to support government initiatives in establishing appropriate
regulations and policies to protect the environmental values of this wilderness area”.

What action did the EPA and/or environment minister Elise Archer take in response to this
well-intentioned paper? None.

We wrote to the Minister in February asking if she was interested in collaborating on this
issue but we didn’t receive a reply. (A copy of the email is attached.)

What the EPA did do was ​commission a review​ of Schneider’s paper. The review, published
in February 2019, was conducted by Associate Professor Sebastien Meffre, Head of Earth
Sciences, University of Tasmania.
Wilderness Society Media Release

June 6 2019

Unfortunately for the EPA, Professor Meffre’s review found that Schneider’s findings stacked
up, saying: “The conclusion that mining-related activities caused contamination in the
western-most lakes is well supported by the data.”

In fact, Meffre’s review found that sources of pollution could be ​even wider​ than just mining,
to potentially include “sources from hydro-electric schemes, agriculture, forestry,
manufacturing, transport, fire management practices and tourism, which would provide some
wider context to this study”.

Meffre added: “This finding is worthy of ​further investigation​, as quite rightly highlighted by
the authors of the [first] study…. To fully understand the source of the metals, and their
potential bio-availability, further geochemical work needs to be undertaken”.

So what action did the EPA and environment minister take, given the fact that now two
papers found extensive heavy metal pollution, the cause of potential pollution went beyond
just mining, the risk to human health remained unknown and a second academic called for
further investigation?

None.

In fact, that’s not quite true. The EPA, seemingly aghast that the Meffre review it
commissioned backed up the original Schneider paper, then published its ​own paper​ this
month.

The EPA’s paper is not peer reviewed, and its four references, aside from the Schneider
paper, include a single academic source, a flyer by MMG mining company (“We Mine For
Progress”), a DPIPWE paper (a department to which the EPA belongs) and a 1967 book
about mount Lyell.

Turning the dial to maximum sneer, the EPA went through Schneider’s paper to try and
discredit it. Fundamentally, however, the EPA paper doesn’t dispute the fundamental
findings of now both the Schneider and Meffre papers of extensive heavy metal pollution.

But where both the Schneider paper and Meffre review of it conclude that 1) mining was a
source of the heavy metal pollution, 2) there is a need for further investigation, the EPA
paper reaches the opposite conclusion.

The EPA paper misleadingly claims that Schneider’s paper claims “that most of the TWWHA
has been contaminated by open-cut mining is not supported” despite both Scheider and
Meffre papers making clear mining ​is ​a source of pollution.
Wilderness Society Media Release

June 6 2019

The EPA paper also misleadingly conflates the need for further research with a need, of its
own suggestion, to change mining regulations, suggesting there doesn’t need to be changes
to “the current regulatory framework”.

The Schneider paper identifies at least three possibilities for further investigation:

● “No study testing the health of aquatic organisms has been conducted in the area.”
● “The environmental contamination in the TWWHA, therefore, is not a past issue and
justifies current attention.”
● “Further investigation of metal bioaccumulation in ecosystems of the TWWHA is
warranted starting in the northwest where the metal contamination is highest.”

Fortunately, given Ms Archer is answering Estimates questions on the environment on


Thursday this week, there is an opportunity to answer some of the urgent questions this
sorry saga raises.

Tom Allen, spokesperson for the Wilderness Society Tasmania, 0434 614 323