Concerns over pit water discharge

Bob Latimer
Bob Latimer
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A “COCKTAIL of poisons” from former mines could be discharged into the sea off Wearside, an environmental campaigner warned today.

The Environment Agency (EA) has granted the Coal Authority a licence to pump water and materials from the former Whitburn Colliery into the sea.

The move has been made in a bid to control rising minewater and prevent any potential contamination of drinking water which flows through the aquifer – an underground layer of water-bearing rock.

But the action has alarmed Bob Latimer – owner of Latimers seafood deli in Whitburn – as, he says, there is no plan to treat the water before it is discharged.

The mine closed in 1968 and the waste and slurry from both Wearmouth and Westoe collieries have been dumped down Whitburn mineshaft for more than two decades.

Mr Latimer – who has long campaigned on water polluition issues in the North Sea off Wearside – is worried those millions of tons of coal water could contain dangerous poisons.

He wants the three-month operation, due to be launched next week, halted until further tests are carried out.

Mr Latimer said: “It should be stopped until a full assessment has been carried out. What should happen, and I understand has happened in Northumberland, is that the water is pumped into lagoons then sampled before being discharged. Just to start pumping without at first identifying potential hazards beggars belief in this age of risk assessment.”

A spokesman for the EA said full consultations had taken place with a number of agencies, including Natural England, South Tyneside Council, local fishermen and scientists at Newcastle University, before agreement to carry out the operation was granted. But that is refuted by Mr Latimer who has accused the organisation of trying to keep the work “hush-hush”.

The EA spokesman said: “We contacted a wide range of interested parties before agreeing the permit to the Coal Authority. This discharge is taking place on a short-term trial basis and if any concerns arise we can stop the operation straight away.”

A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said this was a “temporary pumping excercise” to find out how best to determine the volume required to protect the aquifier. He said: “The exercise will also assess the quality of the minewater to determine the nature of long-term treatment, should it be required.”