‘Don’t swim in the rivers’: Urgent warning to residents

A Western Sydney University water quality expert has issued an urgent warning to southwest Sydney residents swimming in the Nepean and Bargo rivers following a major pollution incident.

A major mining operation on the doorstep to the Southern Highlands has been fined $15,000 for the alleged pollution of the Bargo River with clay from the Tahmoor Colliery.

The NSW Environmental Protection Authority pursued Tahmoor Coal over the incident, which resulted in Tae Tree Hollow Creek and the Bargo River to “become turbid and discoloured”.

EPA regulatory operations director, Giselle Howard, said disturbed water was detected at least 5km downstream from the pollution point.

“No dead or injured animals were observed, however the discharge extended into the popular areas used for swimming and bushwalking in the Bargo River Gorge,” Ms Howard said.

Western Sydney University researchers came across the incident during water sampling, with water quality expert, Dr Ian Wright, finding high levels of nitrogen, nickel, zinc and arsenic contaminants in the river system he has spent more than a decade researching.

Dr Wright issued a warning to surrounding residents, urging them not to swim in the contaminated Nepean and Bargo river system as days heat up, revealing the pollution extends more than 9km downstream and is flowing into the Nepean River.

“It would raise concerns for me around swimmers in that water with the current levels of pollution,” Dr Wright told NewsLocal.

“The Bargo River, based on the data released, is made up of about 60 to 70 per cent mine waste when it comes to flow.

Contaminated water in the Bargo River.
Contaminated water in the Bargo River.

“One of the things that bothers me is the high risk of faecal contamination due to the frequent releases occurring.”

A NSW EPA spokeswoman said the department contacted the colliery, “which took prompt action to stop the discharge and identify its source”.

“The incident occurred between 14-17 April 2020 when the coal handling and preparation plant did not remove a fine-grained clay in its water treatment system,” she said.

“The clay is likely to have come from the underground mine and was mixed in with coal. Due to the fine nature of the clay, it passed through the water treatment system to the licence discharge point without being removed.”

The spokeswoman said the $15,000 fine resulted from an alleged breach of the Environment Protection Licence, which specifies concentration limits and controls for turbidity and the release of total suspended solids.

“Tahmoor Coal has now installed monitoring equipment to detect turbidity and provide an early warning of problems in the water treatment system,” she said.

If you suspect someone is doing the wrong thing, phone the NSW EPA on 131 555.

The operators of Tahmoor Colliery were contacted for comment.

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