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Cadia goldmine: Newcrest pleads guilty to breaching clean air regulations

Mining company Newcrest has pleaded guilty to breaching clean air regulations in the operation of the Cadia goldmine, near Orange in central west New South Wales.

The NSW Environmental Protection Authority began proceedings against the company in August, alleging that the operation of surface exhaust fans attached to the main ventilation shaft for the underground goldmine, dubbed vent rise 8, had caused it to exceed the standard concentration of solid particles under air pollution laws.

The allegations related to March 2022.

On Friday the company pleaded guilty at the first directions hearing in the land and environment court to a breach of section 128 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.

In a statement, the EPA said it welcomed the guilty plea.

The regulator began investigating Cadia goldmine in May after a campaign by local environment group the Cadia Community Sustainability Network, which had been testing the water in household rainwater tanks on properties surrounding the mine.

In July, a NSW upper house inquiry was established to examine the current and potential impacts of gold, silver, lead and zinc mining on human health, land, air and water quality.

Newcrest appeared before the inquiry on its first day of hearings, last week. The Cadia general manager, Mick Dewar, told the inquiry that the mine notified the EPA and Department of Planning and Environment in August 2022 that they had taken measurements that exceeded the clean air regulations. The mine has since installed filtration units, called “bag houses”, at a cost of $10m per year. Building a permanent filtration system will cost an additional $36m, Dewar said.

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Dewar told the inquiry that none of the mine’s external monitors – an array of particle monitors placed around the mine’s boundary – “were indicating that we were polluting off premises”. He said that “at no point in time has there been any evidence suggesting that VR8 is actually depositing dust or allowing dust to escape the mine lease in levels that exceed any of those accepted standards or our project approvals”.

The company received two $15,000 fines from the EPA in 2022 for failing to conduct continuous air quality monitoring and dust pollution. Newcrest’s interim chief executive, Sherry Duhe, rejected a suggestion at the inquiry last week that the fines were seen as “just a cost of doing business”.

“Our very strong aim is never to be penalised and to always be in compliance,” she said. “For us, it’s really very important that we comply with regulations, that we are a good community neighbour and that we have that proactive positive relationship for decades to come.”

Hearings in the upper house inquiry are scheduled to continue in Orange on Tuesday and in Mudgee on Wednesday.

A sentencing hearing will be held in the NSW land and environment court on 28 March 2024.

Newcrest did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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